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Gene Therapy Could Restore Hearing Loss

Delivery of a specific protein via gene therapy repairs malfunctioning hair cells that transduce sound in the inner ear.

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My mom always warned me that listening to loud music could cause irreversible hearing loss. She explained that there were tiny hairs inside my ears that when damaged, could never be repaired. She was right, but according to a recent Salk article, that may soon change. Apparently scientists at the Salk Institute and University of Sheffield led a study to determine if gene therapy could repair hearing loss.

The protein EPS8 is vital for normal hearing function because it regulates the length of hair cell stereocilia. Without EPS8, the hairs are very short and unable to relay sound information to the brain. With this knowledge, the team delivered EPS8 to stereocilia hair cells in deaf mice with the help of a virus. The protein increased the length of the stereocilia and restored hair cell function in low-frequency cells. Unfortunately, the team also found that after a certain age, the proteins were unable to rescue damaged cells.

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