With approximately 48 million people coping with hearing loss in the United States, advances in auditory technology have the potential to affect the lives of a huge percentage of the population. While this innovative new research may sound like a plot straight out of a science fiction film, the results of recent testings regarding DNA implants to help restore hearing is no movie.
Researchers from the University of New South Wales have for the first time implemented electrical pulses derived from cochlear implants within the ear to assist with gene therapy, which in turn can successfully grow back auditory nerves and restore hearing. After five years in development, the study served as a vast improvement upon current cochlear technology by focusing on how the genetic implants into the ear can help repair and strengthen auditory nerve endings.
While certain studies had long hypothesized that finding a way to regenerate proteins in the inner auditory section of the cochlear could help restore hearing damage occurring naturally through aging, research has often stalled because delivering the proteins cannot be achieved via drugs or viral-based gene therapy. However, now the doctors have discovered the ability to successfully inject DNA into the ear and send electrical pulses delivered from the cochlear implant which in turn can spur regrowth for cells that are near implanted electrodes in the ear.
A cochlear implant is the procedure of inserting a small electronic device in the ear of a person who is hard of hearing so they can strengthen their sense of sound. The method of insertion is extremely complex, in that doctors are inserting tiny microphones, speech processors and signal transmitters to help increase auditory ability. However, these implants can not restore the original hearing of the patient, which is why being able to inject DNA to regrow damaged auditory nerves could be revolutionary in terms of audiological health.
Dr. Gary Housley, a professor at the University of New South Wales and lead author of the study, felt that the research can become a vast improvement over using cochlear implants as a form of auditory restoration, and the combination between the implants and gene therapy are what is truly a scientific breakthrough.
“No-one had tried to use the cochlear implant itself for gene therapy,” Housley said in a statement. “People with cochlear implants do well with understanding speech, but their perception of pitch can be poor. Ultimately, we hope that after further research, people who depend on cochlear implant devices will be able to enjoy a broader dynamic and tonal range of sound, which is particularly important for our sense of the auditory world around us.”
Going beyond hearing loss
While the combination of cochlear implants and reconstructive gene therapy can provide wonders in the auditory sense, the researchers were also able to discover that their results could indicate potential relief for other hazardous health symptoms. The integration of technology and DNA could be used in deep brain stimulation, which in turn could help decrease side effects of depression or even Parkinson’s disease.
As further research is necessary to officially possess the ability to restore original hearing, the researchers have already proved that they are on the cusp of a breakthrough for auditory health.