A Beacon of Light: Gene Therapy Offers New Hope for Millions with Hearing Loss

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By Bangladesh Reports

Imagine a world where a baby’s first coo is muffled, silenced by a tiny twist of fate in their genes. Sadly, this isn’t fiction – millions of children are born with congenital hearing loss, a twist that can make the vibrant symphony of life sound like a faint, distant echo. But there’s a beacon of hope emerging in the form of gene therapy, a potential hero promising to turn up the volume on their world.

Experimental Gene Therapy Brings Gift of Hearing to Five children with congenital hearing loss

Recent research has shown promising results using gene therapy to restore hearing in children with congenital hearing loss stemming from a specific genetic mutation. A new study published by researchers from Harvard Medical School and Fudan University in China demonstrated that five out of six children with hearing loss due to a mutation in the OTOF gene experienced improved hearing after undergoing experimental gene therapy targeting this genetic root cause.

A Global Collaboration for Silent Voices: Chinese and American Researchers Team Up to Tackle Childhood Deafness

Forget geographical borders when it comes to the fight against deafness! Imagine a world where the first sounds a baby hears are muffled, their cries unheard. This reality faces millions due to congenital hearing loss, often caused by a genetic mutation

Researchers from Harvard Medical School of United States and Fudan University in China are joining forces to fight back, they are determined to crack the code of a specific genetic cause of hearing loss: a mutation in the OTOF gene.

Think of the OTOF gene as the conductor of an orchestra, coordinating the delicate dance of sound signals from your ear to your brain. But a faulty version, a mutation, throws the whole symphony into disarray, leading to congenital hearing loss in children.

Groundbreaking Gene Therapy Restores Hearing in OTOF-Related Deafness

Six children between the ages of one and seven were given this experimental gene therapy. Six of these children had hearing loss due to a mutation in the OTOF gene. A protein thought to be important in sending signals from the ear to the brain is produced from the OTF gene. The children’s gene mutation was fixed by the therapy.

Those children could only hear words in the form of words. But after gene therapy, five out of six children improved. Their ability to recognize sounds in speech form has increased. A positive response was also observed in the youngest child (one-year-old) among the six. The researchers noted that other tests could not be performed to confirm because of young age.

The research report was published on the Harvard Medical School website on January 25. The report was also published in the Lancet magazine on January 24.

For 26 weeks, experiments were conducted on those children through gene therapy. According to the researchers, there are four ‘promising’ results from this therapy.

Overcoming Technical Challenges during the Gene Therapy Process

The researchers faced a technical challenge with the size of the OTOF gene. For gene therapy, the gene needs to be inserted into the inner ear using a virus. The virus inserts the gene into the target cell’s DNA, enabling it to produce the necessary proteins. 

The OTOF gene was too large for a single virus to carry. To solve this problem, the researchers split the gene into two parts and loaded each part into separate viruses. Then they inserted both viruses into the ear.

After insertion, the researchers had to wait 4-6 weeks to allow time for the viruses to deliver the gene segments into the cells. This pause allowed them to see whether the gene therapy was successfully enabling the hearing loss cells to produce the required proteins.

Of the six children in whom the test was conducted, five showed promising responses. Three are hearing and understanding speech after 26 weeks. And two were able to understand speech in a noisy room and talk on the telephone.

Significance of the Study

“This opens the door to improving the treatment of many types of hearing loss,” said Zheng Yi Chen, senior researcher at Eaton-Peabody Laboratories, Massachusetts Eye & Ear.

Zheng Yi Chen said hearing loss affects more than 1.5 billion people worldwide. About 200,000 people worldwide are deaf due to mutations in the OTOF gene.

This research was completed in December 2023. This is the first case of using gene therapy in such a treatment. However, some other research work is going on. The research team and four others are scheduled to present their findings at the annual meeting of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology Saturday.

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