EAR WE GO: German Researcher Gives Hope To Millions With New Gene Therapy To Tackle Hearing Loss

A researcher in Germany is hoping to cure millions of people affected by hearing loss with a new gene therapy.

University professor and researcher Dr Axel Schambach poses in undated photo. His pioneering research at Hannover Medical School, Germany, aimed to cure hearing loss was rewarded with a grant. (Karin Kaiser, MHH/Newsflash)

Over 430 million people around the world suffer from genetic deafness. Genetic changes in more than 150 genes can be to blame for the sensory disorder. One researcher wants to fix this.

University professor and researcher Dr Axel Schambach is reportedly pioneering research at Hannover Medical School (Medizinischen Hochschule Hannover) in Germany, which is aimed at curing hearing loss.

He said: “We want to bring a healthy variant of this gene directly to the part of the inner ear where the sensory cells for auditory processing are located.”

Newsflash obtained a statement from the Hannover Medical School dated 17th November saying: “Protecting children and adults from hereditary deafness with the help of gene therapy is one of the goals of Professor Dr Axel Schambach, Head of the Institute for Experimental Haematology at the Hannover Medical School (MHH).

“For this, he has already received one of the highest grants from the European Union for Excellency in Science. His research project iHEAR was awarded the coveted ‘Consolidator Grant’ of the European Research Council (ERC). In the new MY-O-SENSES project, the results of his pioneering research are now to be used to work together with the MHH Clinic for Ear, Nose and Throat Medicine to develop a drug for a specific form of hearing loss.

“The EU is supporting the project in the ‘ERC Proof of Concept Grant’ category for 18 months with a grant of EUR 150,000 (GBP 129,000).”

The statement said that the gene therapy would interact directly with the inner ear, potentially providing a cure for “430 million people” suffering from hearing loss around the world.

The statement also said: “So far there is no cure, only treatment with supporting systems such as the cochlear implant is possible. However, the hearing prosthesis does not help against visual impairments or dizziness.”

Schambach said: “In our project, we want to tackle the causes directly and bring a healthy variant of this gene directly to the area of ​​the inner ear where the sensory cells for auditory processing and balance are located.”

The research team are currently preparing to carry out clinical trials, with a statement explaining: “The means of transport, also known colloquially as a gene taxi, is intended to deliver the therapeutic gene precisely via microinjection into the inner and outer cells of the cochlea in the inner ear.”

Schambach said: “We have already developed such an LV system in the iHEAR project and successfully tested it in a mouse model against hearing disorders and dizziness.”

The statement added: “The MY-O-SENSES project is now about using the data collected to further improve the vector system so that it is as safe and effective as possible, without causing unwanted side effects. The researchers also want to investigate what dose and time of treatment are ideal in order to achieve the most comprehensive cure possible with as little genetic material as possible.

“If everything works, the gene therapy will be tested in human clinical trials after the end of the project. Professor Schambach is certain that the process has great potential.”

Schambach said: “In addition to being delivered to the inner ear, the therapeutic could also be used in the eye to treat USH1B-associated blindness.”

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