Byline: David Derbyshire
AN EXPERIMENTAL gene treatment that could one day lead to a cure for deafness has been developed by scientists.
The therapy works by regenerating vital cells in the ear that are damaged or missing in millions of the deaf.
When mice embryos were injected with the treatment, it triggered the production of hair cells that carry sounds from the inner ear to the brain.
Dr John Brigande, who carried out the research at the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, described the results as a 'crucial first step' in the search for a cure for human deafness.
But he warned against raising the hopes of the deaf prematurely.
'We're really far away from a cure for deafness,' said Dr Brigande, a molecular biologist who began to go deaf at the age of ten and now has only partial hearing in one ear.
'I'd like to hear and I would love to be a member of the research team or community that does define an efficacious therapy, but I think it needs to be approached with enormous caution,' he told New Scientist magazine.
Moderate to profound hearing loss is often caused by damage to the 'hair' cells in the cochlea - an organ deep within the ear that converts vibrations into electrical signals The hairs translate sound waves into nerve messages and are vital to hearing.
The cells can be damaged by infections, antibiotics, gene mutations and exposure to loud sounds.
Finding a way to regrow cochlea hairs has long been a goal of scientists.
Dr Brigande's team injected embryos of healthy mice with a gene called Atoh1.
Previous studies have shown that the gene is crucial in transforming cells in …