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Can Researchers Make Hearing Loss Reversible?

If you love Marvel Comics and have read Spider-Man then you've heard of "The Lizard".Can Hearing Loss be Reversible?

Known as Dr. Curtis Connors, The Lizard was an army medic who lost his arm in combat and had dreams of naturally growing it back using an experimental serum taken from reptilian DNA. The birth of the Lizard – a large, grotesque half-human monster – was the unwanted side effect. The good side effect of course is that it created several nail-biting battles for Spidey and all his fans.

The concept of cell rejuvenation isn't new. According to an article in The Atlantic entitled “Human Hearing Loss Could Be Reversible” it's reported that animals regenerate the tiny hair cells that enable hearing—and there are promising signs that people can be made to do the same. The article gave examples of a songbird, saying that when it loses its hearing due to physical trauma or loud noise, the sensory hair cells in its inner ear regenerate naturally. The healed bird can use its restored hearing to decode complex songs from other birds. In fact, this ear repair is almost universal in vertebrates. Fish and frogs share it. Only for mammals is hair cell death irreparable.

Is art imitating life? Could Marvel Comics be onto something? Is it possible for hearing loss – like Dr. Connor's lost arm in the fictional comic series – be replaced? Is it possible for people who are dealing with hearing loss to repair the damage naturally?

The Atlantic went on to say that Dutch company Audion Therapeutics is working on a proof of concept for regeneration of human-ear hair cells. They are using compounds developed by pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and applying them locally to the inner ear. With funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 fund, which provides extra stimulus to promising but risky investments, animal tests are well under way as part of Project REGAIN. Audion is now planning its first small, human clinical trials.

“Primarily we aim to show that it is safe and well tolerated,” says Rolf Jan Rutten, Audion’s CEO in The Atlantic, “And also we will look for an efficacy signal.”

Click here to read the entire article in The Atlantic.

It's exciting research that could have a profound impact on the way hearing loss is treated in the future, and the timing couldn't be better. According to Statistics Canada, audiometry results from the 2012 and 2013 Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS) indicate that 20% of adults aged 19 to 79 years had at least mild hearing loss in at least one ear. Adults aged 60 to 79 years were significantly more likely to have hearing loss compared with younger adults aged 40 to 59 years.

Jon Waterhouse, Director of Professional Practice for Connect Hearing, says this research is exciting and could eventually represent a breakthrough that could help millions.

“Sometimes, I'm just floored at some of the innovative ideas scientists and researchers are coming up with,” says Waterhouse. “Researchers from around the world are doing amazing work, and every year there are scientific breakthroughs being reported. The good news is the wheels of research never stop turning, the scientists and lab workers are doing their part. Now we need people to do their part. Get involved. Get informed. Come in for a free hearing test at one of our clinics. Make your hearing a priority because much of the hearing loss we see happening today, especially with youth, is preventable.”

Sadly we won't ever get to see a fight between Spider-Man and Lizard in real life, but the fight to put hearing loss in he history books is heating up. Will a day come when doctors can rejuvenate lost hearing cells naturally? Could there be a time in the not so distant future when seniors will be able to hear as well as children? Only time will tell.  

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