A major hearing loss research project at the University of Sheffield has started and aims to better understand progressive hearing loss and potentially explore gene therapy treatments, by investigating the factors effecting hearing in infants and adolescents.
The outcomes of the further research could prove crucial to the work of newborn hearing screeners, with scientists having so far found evidence that genetics may play a significant role in auditory development from a very young age.
Scientists in Sheffield, led by Royal Society University research fellow Dr Walter Marcotti, found evidence that a specific genetic mutation – known as miR-96 – plays a crucial role in the development of auditory sensory hair cells.
These cells are located in the inner ear and are crucial for processing sound as electrical signals that are sent to the brain.
Findings based on a study of mice, which are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that infants do not normally hear until about 12 days after birth.
However, in order for hearing to develop, researchers found that hair cells must go through a genetic program to regulate the development of these cells prior to being able to hear.
Dr Marcotti points out that very little is known about the genetic basis for progressive hearing loss in humans. This underlines the importance of pursuing further research, to potentially enhance the understanding of conditions among newborn hearing screeners and audiologists, as well as making new treatments available.
“Progressive hearing loss affects a large proportion of the human population, including new born and young children,” he explained. “Our research has provided new and exciting results that further our understanding of auditory development as well as possible molecular targets for the development of future therapies.”
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