My grandfather, rest his soul, was a soldier in the Navy in World War II, and because he spent a lot time with noisy ship engines, he experienced a lot of hearing loss later in life. When I was a little girl, I remember when he got his first hearing aids. The day he got them he came over to our house and I remember how amazed he was that he could hear me unwrapping a lolly. The hearing aids helped a lot, but they were cumbersome, he didn’t always remember to put him in, and if you gave him a hug or he put his hand over his ear, you’d hear a high pitched squealing noise (feedback).
We don’t normally think of hearing loss as a problem that a drug can fix. At least, I don’t. It seems more like a mechanical problem, doesn’t it? And it is, but researchers have now found a way to use a drug to block a protein that then allows damaged cells to regrow. Basically, from ear stem cells, a certain protein tells the stem cells to either make hair cells, which are involved in hearing, or other cells. The new drug, a kind of gamma-secretase inhibitor, blocks that protein and causes the inner ear cells to become hair cells. The new research has just come out in the journal Neuron, and shows the effect in mice, but has yet to be tested in humans. Nevertheless, it’s the first step to creating a potentially life-changing therapy for many people.