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2008 a good year for hearing loss research

2008 was a productive year in terms of hearing research. Results from stem-cell and gene research may lead to new treatment options for hearing impairment.

Stem-cell and gene research contributed new knowledge about the ear and hearing in 2008, opening opportunities for the development of new treatment options for hearing impaired people in the future.

Genes and cells
Gene mutations causing various kinds of hearing loss were identified. We now know that the SLC17A8 gene mutation causes one kind of hereditary hearing loss and the TGBF1 gene is the culprit in otosclerosis.

Other research investigated the feasibility of regenerating hearing by treatment with embryonic stem-cells. These efforts scored initial successes. In 2008, a team of researchers achieved the first generation ever of the kind of hear cells that are central to the processing of sound in the inner ear and crucial to hearing. The cells were grown in mouse embryos.

Another team of researchers successfully modified hearing stem-cells in the embryonic stage, so they are directed to the area of the inner ear where they become part of the tissue they are supposed to repair.

Future treatments
The insights gained by the scientists are the first steps on the way to potential treatments of genetically conditioned hearing loss or hearing loss caused by cell damage.

The scientists caution, however, that actual gene or stem-cell therapy for the treatment of hearing loss is not imminent. Gene and stem-cell therapy is a new area of research with treatment techniques yet to be discovered or developed.

But the knowledge about hearing loss is increasing and advances in the general technological standard is resulting in improvements in hearing aids and other assistive devices for people with hearing impairment. And the encouraging outlook for 2009 is for further discoveries in the exiting new areas of hearing research.