Changing Destiny: Editing Genes to Prevent Hearing Loss

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Gene editing for hereditary deafness

Your genetics is not your destiny.

-George M. Church

Everywhere we look these days, there seems to be news about genetics and genes and how science is identifying and using them to improve health and prevent and cure disease.

We now know that genetics do play a role in certain types of hearing loss. Could advances in the field help change that?

It may sound like something out of a futuristic science fiction story, but researchers believe that a newly tested gene-editing technique could prove effective for preventing some cases of hearing loss.

Could a quick snip of a defective gene be the future of healthy hearing?

Gene-editing and hearing loss

A team at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital has shown that highly targeted gene-editing therapy using the CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing system may prove effective in preventing genetic hearing loss in the very near future.

In the recent study, researchers tested the promising technique on a group of mice known as Beethoven mice, mice with the genetic mutation that also causes progressive hearing loss in humans.

In a series of tests, the team used a more effective and accurate version of the CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing system to identify and cut out the Tmc1 gene responsible for the progressive hearing loss while leaving the normal copy of the gene. Auditory brainstem responses confirmed that the treatment worked.

“Our results demonstrate that this more refined, better-targeted version of the now-classic CRISPR/Cas9 editing tool achieves an unprecedented level of identification and accuracy,” said study co-senior investigator David Corey, the Bertarelli Professor of Translational Medical Science in the Blavatnik Institute at Harvard Medical School.

While more research is needed, the results show promise for preventing life-changing hearing loss in those individuals born with the defective Tmc1 gene. Even those with other genetic disorders may one day benefit thanks to this approach.

“To be sure, this is the first step in a long journey,” said study co-senior investigator Jeffrey Holt, Harvard Medical School professor of otolaryngology and neurology at Boston Children’s Hospital. “But what we have here is proof of principle that demonstrates this highly specific, highly targeted treatment could be developed to selectively silence genes that carry single-point mutations and potentially treat many other forms of human disease.”

Digging into genetics

This study isn’t the first time researchers have delved into the genetic side of hearing loss and how targeting specific genes impacts hearing. As experts map genetics more and more completely, identifying the individual genes that impact hearing and the role they play in the process, so the research into how to solve hearing problems on a genetic level grows.

Researchers around the world are hopeful that one day, a genetic test could help hearing healthcare providers identify and address a person’s risk of developing various types of hearing loss.

Hearing loss affects more areas of your life than you may realize and could have a serious impact on your health now and down the road.  If you believe you have hearing loss, don’t wait. Schedule a hearing evaluation with us to identify and manage hearing loss early.


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