From Dancing Astronaut by Amanda Mesa
Great news: scientists may have discovered a way to reverse hearing loss in humans. Various animals regenerate sensory hair cells in their inner ears naturally after physical trauma or loud noise. While the list of these gifted animals does not include mammals, a team of scientists are working on methods that could imbue us with these same regenerative properties.
In 2013, Dr. Albert Edge demonstrated that a “notch inhibitor” class molecule generates new hair cells in a culture. Dr. Edge and his team realized how powerful this drug could be after looking at a report of its side effects on dementia patients. “We thought, ‘These side effects in an Alzheimer’s patient are exactly what we’re looking for in treating deafness,” said Edge, before trying it out on lab mice.
Edge is also part of a Dutch company called Audion Therapeutics, which is working on a proof of concept for human-ear hair cell regeneration using compounds that can be applied locally to the inner ear. Funded by the EU’s Unions Horizon 2020 fund, Audion Therapeutics is now planning its first human clinical trials.
“Primarily we aim to show that it is safe and well tolerated. And also we will look for an efficacy signal,” said Rolf Jan Rutten, CEO of Audion.
In the United States, Frequency Therapeutics has been developing ways to get supporting cells to multiply and become hair cells using a locally released drug.
Ultimately, with something as innovative and untested as hair cell regeneration, it could be years or even decades before we have a working long-term cure for hearing-loss, but start-ups and pharmaceutical companies are in the race for the long-haul.
“It is a competitive field, but everybody has their own approach,” said Ruttan. “Obviously there will be one of us that will be successful first, but it may be that our different approaches are complementary.”