A cure for hearing loss may finally be on the way. Hearing loss and conditions like tinnitus (ringing in the ears) have long been considered irreversible. While treatments such as hearing aids can be life-changing, many people still don’t use them. With 48 million people in the US suffering from hearing loss, there is a big market for new hearing solutions.
Around 90% of hearing loss is sensorineural, caused by damage to the inner ear, especially the tiny hair cells that transmit sound signals to the brain. These cells can become damaged by trauma, exposure to loud noise, infections, ototoxic medications and aging. It’s a complex and delicate system, and it has been considered nearly impossible to “fix”.
Several new biotech start-up companies are focusing on find a permanent cure for hearing loss, by pioneering new pharmaceutical medications and gene therapies. Advances in molecular biology and bioinformatics mean that restoring hearing rather than just treating it could soon be a reality
The difference between “treating” and “restoring”
There is currently no cure for conditions such as hearing loss or tinnitus. As a result, symptoms must be alleviated, improved and managed, rather than eliminated. Hearing aids provide great benefits to many people with hearing loss, but they do not restore full hearing to the ear. Instead, they enhance the volume and quality of sound entering the ear, so a user can hear more clearly. Although hearing aids have been shown to greatly improve a person’s quality of life, a large number of people still do not wear them.
For tinnitus sufferers, treatment is a case of managing the condition using methods such as noise generators, relaxation therapy and stress management. As a result, the condition can be frustrating to live with.
Restoring hearing means bringing it back to its original condition, without the need for hearing aids and other interventions. Biotech companies have made significant breakthroughs in their understanding of ear biology, bringing us a step closer to truly solving the problem of hearing loss. We’re not quite there yet – experts believe we are at least five years away from a cure.
What is the future?
GenVec are a bio-pharmaceutical company who are searching for a regenerative medical solution to hearing loss. Research shows that birds and mammals can regenerate hair cells. Based on these findings, GenVec are pioneering new gene therapy that can encourage inner ear hair cells to grow back and restore hearing.
Otonomy is a start-up founded by Jay Lichter, Ph.D., a sufferer of Ménière’s disease, and his otolaryngology physician, Jeffrey Harris, M.D., Ph.D. They are developing “targeted medicines for the ear” to bring new treatments to patients with ear disorders. They have been conducting clinical trials for new pharmacological solutions to pediatric Otitis Media and Ménière’s disease – common causes of hearing loss – as well as tinnitus.
Decibel Therapeutics are dedicated to pioneering new medical solutions to “protect, repair and restore” hearing. Their founders are Otology professors at Harvard University, who aim to address all kinds of hearing disorders, from children who have hearing loss as a result of cancer treatment, to older people experiencing presbycusis (age-related hearing loss). They conduct research into inner ear biology and the underlying molecular causes of hearing loss, to develop breakthrough therapies for different kinds of hearing loss.
Autifony, backed by medical giant GlaxoSmithKline, are developing pioneering new drugs which target specific ion channels in the inner ear. Ion channels were only recently discovered by scientists, and help regulate the transmission of sound from the ear to the brain. Autifony are developing a range of drugs which can restore and modulate these transmissions, to restore hearing for a variety of hearing disorders, including tinnitus, presbycusis and noise-induced hearing loss.
The founders of Otonomy claim that there are “significant unmet medical needs” in the otology market. It’s clear that many millions of people around the world could do with new and permanent solutions for hearing loss.
Although a cure may not be far away, do not delay getting treated for hearing loss. Leaving your hearing loss untreated can have a negative impact on your quality of life. Getting a hearing test is easy, and it is the first step on your path to better hearing. To arrange a test, contact us at Preferred Hearing Solutions today!
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