Breakthrough in Gene Therapy for Hearing

A major breakthrough in a technique for gene therapy to allow regrowth of auditory nerves has been published in the Science Translational Medicine journal. For the first time ever, a cochlear implant was used to generate electrical pulses to deliver gene therapy. This advancement in technology may help science treat a wide range of neurological disorders.

Cochlear implants help discern speech but do not provide the range of sound for the complete enjoyment of music that requires the ability to perceive a broader dynamic range. Professor Housley, the Director of the Translational Neuroscience Facility at UNSW Medicine, believes this new research may pave the way for allowing people with a cochlear implant to someday enjoy the full auditory experience we take for granted.

A surgeon that installs the bionic device would inject DNA solution into the cochlea. The implant then transmits the DNA by electrical impulses generated by the bionic cochlear device. This could be done in only a few minutes during the procedure.

Surprisingly, no one had thought of transferring growth therapy by using the cochlear implant prior to the study. Early indications of success suggest that utilizing similar bionics for the ear is a very effective way to handle delicate brain tissue stimulation.

Hearing disorders are not the only conditions that may benefit from this discovery. Other neurological disorders, including Parkinson's disease and psychiatric conditions such as depression, may be treatable in the same way. Auditory nerve endings regenerate if neurotrophins, which are a naturally occurring family of proteins vital for the growth, operation and survival of neurons, are supplied to the auditory section of the cochlea: the inner ear. By using a cochlea implant as the vehicle of gene therapy a complex and delicate portion of the brain may be treated safely and efficiently.

Source: E Science News