New York Times: Researching drugs that aim to cure hearing loss

Hearing loss can be caused by a number of things, including consistent noise exposure, genetics, or natural aging. Fortunately, we have a variety of treatments options for those who suffer from hearing loss, but none thus far treat the underlying cause of hearing loss. However, now, pharmaceutical companies have begun clinical trials on new drugs and therapies which aim to prevent and cure hearing loss all together.

According to the New York Times, clinical trials of gene therapy has recently been initiated by Novartis. This company is aiming to restore damaged hair cells which is the cause of sensorineural hearing loss. The inner ear is home to over 15,000 hair cells which are responsible for transmitting sound signals to the auditory nerve. The auditory nerve then relays the sound information to the brain. When the hair cells are damaged, sounds can no longer be transmitted into the signals which are easily perceived by the brain. This loss of communication is what causes sensorineural hearing loss. The clinical trials sponsored by Novartis took a virus with the Atoh1 gene and injected it into the cochlea of a human in hopes to regrow these damaged hair cells. Although they did not find any significant change, this shows promise for the future.

Another promising drug experiment was done by Auris Medical. They reported that their experimental drug, which was injected through the ear drum into the middle ear, had improved hearing and speech discrimination for profoundly hearing impaired patients within 48 hours. Although, the drug did not improve hearing for those with mild or moderate hearing impairments.

Another approach in the medical field was to produce a drug that could reduce the oxidative damage to the ear. Sound Pharmaceuticals have began drug innovation which is intended to help prevent hearing loss. However, no significant results have been found in their experimental study.

Autifony Therapeutics has focused on creating a daily pill that aims to improve auditory interpretation. They believe that enhancing the communication between neurons is the best way to improve hearing. However, so far there hasn’t been any further testing conducted.

In the hopes of helping those who suffer from tinnitus (ringing in the ears), Auris has been running trials for AM-101, which is a derivate of the anesthetic ketamine. AM-101 aims to diminish the unnecessary signaling in the auditory nerve, which is perceived by the brain as tinnitus. Unfortunately, no significant effects were found in these studies. Although, there were reports from many patients stating that they believed their tinnitus had slightly softened.

Although these studies did not yield significant results it is wonderful to know that we are working towards a cure for hearing loss.

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