New Gene Therapy for Severe Hearing Loss

A new study is due to be piloted to assess the safety and tolerability of gene therapy with those who have severe hearing loss. Pioneers, the company who have created the idea behind the clinical study for Novartis AG, a global healthcare leader who are leading the study, are hoping that this will provide for new evidence in support of the ability to reverse hearing loss.

This gene therapy has already been tested on an American participant, who had suffered hearing loss as a child due to meningitis. He was the first person to partake in this study and had the operation to insert the gene therapy drug into his inner ear in October 2014. The results of this will not be fully visible until his ears have healed completely and further tests have been carried out.

The process involved in the clinical trial entails inserting a drug into the inner ear, a combination of a virus and a gene, which causes the inner ear cells to regenerate. The virus aspect of the drug is a virus, like a common cold, but the infectious aspect of it is removed. The gene used CGF166, has been found to help existing cells in the inner ear to become new functional cells which have improved hearing. The combination of both the virus and the gene are hoped to trigger the regrowth of inner ear cells which have been damaged as a result of noise-induced hearing loss, medications or some other cause or disease.

Dr Staecker, a leading clinician, who has been looking into gene therapy in mice for over 15 years, has explained how the initial study will evaluate the safety of the process and whether it imposes any further risks to a person’s hearing. In the initial study, only one ear will be treated. It is said that it should be known within a few months whether this therapy is in fact restoring hearing in those suffering with noise-induced hearing loss and other related losses. The results however, will not be made public for at least another year.

Participants for the full study will have to visit the clinic for the trial 13 times over a period of 7 months. They will be initially screened to assess their auditory and vestibular function to see whether they qualify. Those who qualify will then have an operation to inject the drug into the inner ear. The participants will be followed up in clinic for 169 days after surgery to assess the findings. Dr Staecker has explained that if the results of this study prove positive they could, in time, reduce the number of people needing hearing aids and cochlear implants to assist with their hearing loss. This could mean that greater remedies are available to noise-induced hearing loss sufferers in dealing with the condition.

Noise Induced Hearing loss is most commonly caused by harmful exposure to noise through working in heavy industry for a significant period of time. This is as a result of hearing protection not being provided or enforced by employers and leads to daily exposure to excessive levels of noise. Some of the types of work which can cause this are engineering, steelworks and manufacturing. As this develops as a result of unsafe working conditions, it means that a person is entitled to seek compensation for their loss.

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