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Researchers Working On Novel Approach To Treat Hearing Loss

Hearing loss could arise from various causes such as an injury, an infection, exposure to loud noises, or ageing. Researchers from USC are testing out a novel way of treating hearing loss through cell regeneration.   ( Rodrigo Arangua | AFP/Getty Images )

Researchers from the University of Southern California and Harvard University are working on a novel approach to the treatment of hearing loss.

Their method could give hope the millions suffering from hearing loss.

The Problem With Ears

How does one lose hearing? Often, hearing loss happens when the wiring that creates the hearing gets damaged through years of wear and tear, thereby damaging the ability to transmit messages from the ears to the brain.

Currently, most people who suffer from hearing loss use hearing aids that simply amplify the sounds that the user is hearing but does not solve the root of the patient's problem.

According to Charles McKenna of USC, there are new drugs and known compounds that can actually target the already damaged cells and promote regeneration. However, the problem lies in the very ear itself, which has fluids that naturally flush things out including possible medication.

Novel Approach

Now, researchers at USC and Harvard University are working on a medication that can latch onto the inner ear so that it can carry out its function without being flushed out, perhaps in the form of a gel or liquid. Should they succeed in creating the drug, it could help millions of people suffering from hearing problems. For now, however, hearing aids continue to help many people to communicate and participate fully in daily activities.

For their study published in the journal Bioconjugate Chemistry, researchers tested the drug on animal tissues in a petri dish, but their next step is to test the drug on animals and should it prove successful, move on to human clinical trials.

"We're not saying it's a cure for hearing loss. It's a proof of principle for a new approach that's extremely promising. It's an important step that offers a lot of hope," said McKenna.

Hearing Loss In The US

About 48 million or 20 percent of Americans report experiencing hearing loss, 60 percent of whom are in the workforce or educational setting. In fact, by the age of 65, one in three people already have hearing loss problems.

Although it is not seen as a serious problem, it is actually a major public health issue as it is the third most common physical ailment after arthritis and heart disease. Furthermore, while it is commonly attributed to the elderly, about 15 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 19 actually experience some form and degree of hearing loss.

The common causes of gradual hearing loss include age, consistent exposure to loud noises, ear wax buildup, ear infection, or other conditions that affect the inner or middle ear. It is also possible to experience sudden hearing problems as a result of exposure to a loud noise such as explosions, a ruptured eardrum, or injury to the head or ears.

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