Cochlear implants achieved a great success in the past. However, there is hope that patients suffering from hearing loss won’t need to be dependent on an electronic device soon. Several research groups aim at making the damaged inner ear recovered by itself thanks to gene therapy.
It took many years of research to identify the gene that is crucial for the formation of the mechanotransducer channel, responsible for our capacity to hear sounds. These channels are located on the tips of the hair cells in the inner ear. When the hair is moved through vibrations, these channels are opened and an electric current can flow through them. Thereby, the vibration is translated into electrical signals, which is then interpretated as sound by the brain. When the mechanotransducer channels lack, the hearing doesn’t work anymore. And that’s what happens, when the crucial gene TMC1 is defective.
Gene therapy could provide a unique tool to compensate the faulty gene in deaf children. Researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School and École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne could replace the defective TMC1 gene in mice to cure an inherited form of deafness.