A press release from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) has recently caught a lot of attention from the hearing healthcare community and major news outlets such as the BBC and Yahoo! News.
The announcement shared that MIT was running trials with the aim of developing a drug that has the power to reverse hearing loss.
Here’s What It Said:
“The biotechnology company Frequency Therapeutics is seeking to reverse hearing loss — not with hearing aids or implants but with a new kind of regenerative therapy. The company uses small molecules to program progenitor cells, a descendant of stem cells in the inner ear, to create the tiny hair cells that allow us to hear.
Hair cells die off when exposed to loud noises or drugs, including certain chemotherapies and antibiotics. Frequency’s drug candidate is designed to be injected into the ear to regenerate these cells within the cochlea. In clinical trials, the company has already improved people’s hearing as measured by tests of speech perception — the ability to understand speech and recognize words.
In Frequency’s first clinical study, the company saw statistically significant improvements in speech perception in some participants after a single injection, with some responses lasting nearly two years.
The company has dosed more than 200 patients to date and has seen clinically meaningful improvements in speech perception in three separate clinical studies. Another study failed to show improvements in hearing compared to the placebo group, but the company attributes that result to flaws in the design of the trial.”
On the face of it, this is very exciting news.
There are so many unanswered questions about hearing loss, such as why it occurs in some people and not others and how hearing loss interacts with other health conditions, and every bit of research that we can accumulate gets us one step closer to understanding the auditory system more fully.
Having studied the press release and further explored the published details of the trials, it is very interesting. The thought that we might be able to use regenerative therapy to regain some hearing sensitivity has been on the radar for many years. And while very exciting, the long-term effects of the therapy have not been observed.
I feel like a great deal more research needs to happen before we can get excited about using these therapies routinely.
My belief is that we will see some regenerative drug for hearing loss within our lifetime, but I don’t think it will be available to everyone with a hearing loss. Perhaps those who experience a sudden hearing loss or those who have been exposed to excessive noise will benefit from the therapy, but it will take lifetimes to develop a solution that is available for every person who suffers with a hearing loss.
Research has shown us again and again that the sooner we provide help for hearing loss, the better the long-term outcomes will be for the individual.
So much of our hearing depends on our ability to process, understand, and comprehend speech, which occurs at levels of the auditory system beyond the cochlea.
This drug seems to target the hair cells of the cochlea only – the cells that detect sound and send the signal to the brain. If a person has not had any experience with sound for the past 30 years, sending a signal to the brain about the sound may not make much sense to them.
We have to keep the entire auditory system stimulated in order to ensure that we are continuously able to process sounds, and it would be irresponsible to say that a person could simply wait for a regenerative drug to do the job.
If you have any questions about your hearing or a loved one’s hearing, or would like to discuss this study, then we are here to help.
We will be keeping a close eye on the future trials and continue to report any meaningful updates to ensure you’re fully aware of the latest news from the hearing healthcare community.