According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 125 people through across the planet currently suffer from genetic hearing disorders which can severely impact their quality of life in many ways.
Although different devices such as cochlear implants, as well as communicating through American Sign Language have helped many to cope with their disorder, there has been no cure for congenital deafness.
That, however, may soon be about to change thanks to two new research projects. The first, led by Professor Konstantina Stankovic of Harvard Medical School, has found that by introducing a benign virus to transport a gene deep into the ears of deaf lab mice he and his team were able to repair outer hair cells responsible for “tuning” the inner ear to sound waves, thus enabling them to hear for the first time.
“Outer hair cells amplify sound, allowing inner hair cells to send a stronger signal to the brain,” explained Gwenaelle Geleoc, a researcher at the F.M. Kirby Neurobiology Center at Boston Children’s Hospital who used the same viral courier to treat mice with a mutated gene responsible for Usher syndrome in similar experiments. Usher is a rare childhood genetic disease that causes deafness, loss of balance, and (in some cases) blindness.
“The technique bestowed hearing and balance” to a level that’s never been achieved before. Now you can whisper, and the mice can hear you, she said in a statement.”
Results of both studies are currently available in the journal Nature Biotechnology. Although testing in humans still needs to be done, which could take years, Stankovic is confident that “with more than 100 genes already known to cause deafness in humans, there are many patients who may eventually benefit from this technology.”
In addition, Jonathan Ashmore, a professor at University College London’s Ear Institute, sees the potential for using this kind of gene therapy to help prevent hereditary deafness in children before they are even born.
In the meantime, the need for hearing aids is increasing as more and more people are diagnosed with hearing loss each year. In fact, there are reportedly 36 million people in the US alone who suffer from some form of deafness.
While there are hundreds of devices on the market, ranging from inexpensive devices sold in mail-order catalogs to high-tech models, the most widely reviewed devices and services by Consumer Affairs include:
- Miracle-Ear, which has equipped its customers with hearing aids for more than 65 years;
- Beltone, used mostly by people 50-years old and up;
- Embrace, German-engineered hearing aids which provide high performance, directly to consumers for about 1/3 of the price of local retailers;
- Century Hearing Aids, founded to provide “top quality hearing aids at a low price;”
- Switzerland’s Phonak International, which has been offering hearing aids for both kids and adult since 1947.
In addition, Oticon is a hearing aid company from Denmark that now offers a range of hearing aids for customers of all ages, using advanced technology and a sleek design aesthetic; and Costco Hearing Aid Centers offering “the latest in hearing aid technology and open-fit design, with easy-to-use and value priced hearing aids.”