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Gene editing found to reverse genetic deafness in mice

Friday 5th January 2018
A genetic editing technique has been proven to be effective in restoring hearing function in mice with genetic hearing loss in a recent investigation. Image: vchal via iStock
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Scientists based in the US believe they may have found a way to restore hearing function in those affected by genetic hearing loss, following experiments involving mice that have been hailed as a 'breakthrough'.

A study carried out by scientists from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology used an innovative gene editing technique to try to rebuild the delicate hairs in the inner ear that are damaged or absent in many sufferers of genetic hearing loss.

For the purpose of the research, mice were bred with a mutation of the TMC1 gene, which is the one responsible for adversely affecting those tiny hairs in many deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals.

A type of genetic material known as RNA was then mixed with a specific protein and applied inside the ears of newborn mice, which was found to disable the gene mutation, providing hope that the same result could potentially be achieved in humans in the future.

After eight weeks had passed, it was found that the hair cells in the inner ears of these mice were of the same standard as those in healthy animals.

Hearing tests showed that the mice that had been treated were able to hear significantly better than those that hadn't undergone the gene-editing treatment. The difference was found to be equivalent to 15 decibels, which the researchers described as being like the difference between only being able to hear a muffled conversation and hearing a noisy bag of rubbish being disposed of.

Professor David Liu, lead author of the research, commented: "We hope that the work will one day inform the development of a cure for certain forms of genetic deafness in people."

As the study was conducted using mice, further investigations will be needed to explore whether or not the same results can be achieved in humans, but Professor Liu added: "We also recognise the importance and remain mindful of cultural considerations within the deaf community as this work moves forward."

Written by James Puckle

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