For years, we’ve heard that gene therapy could one day offer a cure for hearing loss. And while that day is still not here, it may also not be as far off as some people think.
I recently heard updates from some of the researchers at the Stanford Initiative to Cure Hearing Loss (SICHL), detailing where they are in their current work and what they anticipate for the future. One update came from Teresa Nicolson, PhD, head of the Nicolson Research Lab at SICHL.
Dr. Nicolson discussed the fact that there is already a gene therapy on the market to treat a form of blindness: Luxturna, which is used to treat patients with inherited retinal disease due to mutations in both copies of the RPE65 gene. It was approved by the FDA in 2017. “I think we’re entering into a rapidly expanding translational phase for gene therapy,” she said to me in an email.
Luxturna is just one of six gene therapies that have been recently approved. The others are for muscle degeneration and immune disorders.
“There currently is an antisense oligo therapy in clinical trials for Usher syndrome (USH2A), which causes deaf/blindness,” Nicolson said. “The goal of the clinical trial is to restore vision, but this reagent could also be used to improve hearing loss in these Usher patients. So I think we are very near to these type of treatments!”
The Stanford researchers agree that curing hearing loss is not a matter of if, but when. As we’ve seen in the past year with the lightening-speed development of the COVID-19 vaccine, with enough money and resources, it’s possible to come up with novel treatments in an astonishingly short time.
While hearing loss doesn’t carry the same urgency as a potentially fatal condition like COVID, those of us who are personally affected know that it still has a profound impact on our lives — and that better treatments are needed.
With enough awareness, and enough money, the researchers assert that treating inner-ear hearing loss will one day be as effective as the treatments we currently have for middle ear problems (conductive hearing loss, which can be fixed).