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Injecting disguised virus in ear may restore hearing function

Wednesday 19th April 2017
Injecting a disguised virus into the ear may help to restore hearing function in hard-of-hearing individuals, according to a new study. Image: Luxian via iStock
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Scientists believe that they may be able to restore hearing function by injecting a disguised virus into people's ears, following the publication of promising new study results.

Researchers from the ear, nose and throat diseases department at the Medical University (MedUni) of Vienna and Harvard Medical School have carried out successful tests on animal models that found hearing loss could be reversed with the injection of a virus.

They used a modified, non-pathogenic adeno-associated virus known as Anc80L65, which they administered to the ear in a 'Trojan horse' vehicle, in the form of a gene vector or carrier.

It was found that injecting this virus stimulated the tiny hair cells in both the inner and outer ear, which are often damaged in people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. As a result, sounds could be amplified, at least partially restoring hearing function and providing hope to millions of people across the world.

A similar process of administering an adeno-associated virus in a Trojan horse-type vehicle has already been used to restore non-functioning cells in animals' livers and in the retina, demonstrating that this is a growing area of medicine.

The researchers explained in a report: "Once the functionality of the virus had been initially proven in the treatment of a mouse model for Usher syndrome, which is the commonest cause of deaf-blindness worldwide, further studies are required to determine the tolerability of the vector, so that this approach will soon be available for treating newborn babies with congenital hearing loss."

Currently, cochlear implants are the go-to method for restoring hearing function in deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals, but this new discovery may provide another option for the future and could be more discreet than other methods. MedUni Vienna has long been a leader in cochlear implants, as this was where the first multichannel cochlear implant was fitted back in 1997.

Written by James Puckle

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