Will We Soon Be Able to Restore Hearing With a Drug?

An American company is developing a treatment to combat loss of hearing. Based on the concept of regenerative medicine, this drug, still in trial phase, aims to regenerate the cells responsible for hearing. You probably know someone among your friends and family whose hearing has diminished. While this may be a source of inconvenience for those around them (needing to speak louder, increasing the volume of the television set, etc), it can be painful and isolating for individuals who suffer from this disorder.

Currently, solutions are mainly limited to medical devices that are placed in the ear. But a new solution, based on a new type of regenerative therapy, could be on the horizon.

Frequency Therapeutics, in conjunction with MIT, is working on a treatment to combat deafness. And results from the first published clinical trial are encouraging. Among 200 volunteers, researchers “clinically meaningful improvements in speech perception in three separate clinical studies,” the company outlined in a report from MIT News.

“Some of these people [in the trials] couldn’t hear for 30 years, and for the first time they said they could go into a crowded restaurant and hear what their children were saying,” noted Robert Langer, MIT Institute and company co-founder.

A step closer to regenerative medicine

This treatment targets hair cells in the inner ear, which enable humans to hear. The biotechnology company explains that “humans are born with about 15,000 hair cells in each cochlea…such cells die over time and never regenerate.” The company’s objective is to allow these cells to regenerate by injecting small molecules of the drug into the inner ear.

The researchers believe that their approach, based on injecting a treatment to regenerate the cells, has an advantage over gene therapy treatments that involve extracting cells from a patient, programming them in the laboratory, and then delivering them to the right area.

“Tissues throughout your body contain progenitor cells, so we see a huge range of applications,” noted Frequency co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer Chris Loose. The researchers are currently also working on developing a drug to treat multiple sclerosis.

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