Scientists studying hearing loss have discovered an important protein regulator for healthy ears. Scientists studying hearing loss have discovered an important protein regulator for healthy ears. Scientists studying hearing loss have discovered an important protein regulator for healthy ears. (Photo: Cristovao / Shutterstock)

Scientists are one step closer to solving hearing loss

How can we keep healthy ears as we age? A new breakthrough study may hold an answer.

No matter how well we treat our ears, there will come a time for many of us when hearing loss will begin its inevitable creep into our lives. Along with old age, it's one of those guaranteed inconveniences that we all accept will likely happen. But what if we could keep our ears as young at 85 as they are at 25? That's the overarching goal of researchers involved in solving the mystery not only behind hearing loss, but also the possible means to reverse it.

A new international study led by scientists at the University of Maryland School of Medicine has uncovered a big clue in the fight against hearing loss. Dr. Ronna P. Hertzano, who received her medical and Ph.D. degrees at Tel Aviv University in Israel and now teaches at the University of Maryland, led the study.

She believes the discovery could be instrumental in future treatments for the condition. "This discovery opens up new avenues, not only for understanding the genetics of hearing, but also, eventually for treating deafness," she said.

Gradual hearing loss can be caused by everything from disease and aging to the loud music you recently listened to. These forces all impact our ear's hair cells, tens of thousands of auditory receptors that translate sound waves into electrical signals for our brains to process. The more hair cells we lose, the less precise our hearing.

Hertzano and her colleagues – including co-author Ran Elkon, a biologist at the Sackler School of Medicine at Tel Aviv University – used a state-of-the-art gene sequencing system to study hair cells in mice. They discovered that healthy hair cells are regulated by a group of proteins. Take these away, and the hair cells quickly die, leading to extreme deafness in the mice test subjects.

Hertzano believes that better understanding of these proteins, as well as other genes in cell function, may one day lead to treatments that could keep our hair cells healthy into old age – or even reverse hearing loss altogether.

Such promising research should come as sweet music to anyone's ears.

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