New Research on Hearing Loss- What's happening now?
by Envoy Medical Staff Member, on February 27, 2021
Having lived with hearing loss for decades, I have always longed for progress towards a cure. Yet it seems for decades I have been told the same thing - "scientists are working on a cure".
To be fair, I have said the same thing when I've been asked about research. It is hard to tell someone there is not a cure for their condition and kind of helps soften the blow.
However, to truly empower ourselves and make important decisions around our hearing health we need to take into account how research has evolved and incorporate it into our own unique journey. It can be hard to weed through all of the propaganda one encounters as a consumer and when we have hearing loss, we are more a consumer than a medical patient so the responsibility to educate ourselves falls on us.
While there is not a cure for sensorineural hearing loss today, there are lots of different treatment options including hearing aids, amplifiers, middle ear implants, cochlear implants, and other types of assisted listening devices. Lack of insurance coverage has created a confusing situation in which an individual is medically diagnosed with a condition by an ENT Specialist yet treatment for the diagnosis ,whether surgical or non-surgical is rarely covered. This has caused people to learn only about a narrow range of options and everything tends to fall under the antiquated “hearing aid” umbrella.
In other articles we have explored the potential risks of not treating hearing loss and viewed recent groundbreaking research on untreated hearing loss. However we have not looked at the wider frontier of biologically based therapies.
So why is it taking so long? For one, hearing is an incredibly complex process when you take into effect the transmission from the cochlea to the brain and all that's involved in auditory processing. It’s an incredible process really. Thousands of researchers at some of our most respected institutions in this country are making progress towards a greater understanding of hearing loss. While it would be impossible to cover all of what’s happening, here are some highlights.
Harvard Stem Cell Institute
Scientists at the Harvard stem cell institute hope to one day create biologically based therapies to treat hearing loss. They have already learned which cells can become hair cells and also which molecules are used to help bring about the change in the cells to help them become hair cells. They are working on developing ways to grow hair cells in the laboratory that could ultimately be implanted in the ear. Stem cells could also be used to screen for drugs that would help stimulate the regeneration of hair cells. Animal studies have shown promise.
Stanford’s Initiative to Cure Hearing Loss
Stanford’s Initiative to Cure Hearing Loss is focused on understanding and identifying exactly how the inner ear functions and then use that information to develop new approaches to preventing damage, repairing damage and one day replacing damaged inner ear tissue.
I would encourage you to view the fantastic homepage. These are the faces of all of the people who take this issue of hearing loss very seriously. It’s vindicating to view.
Pharmaceuticals and Gene Therapy
Increased understanding of the genetics of hearing loss and how the inner ear works have led to biotech companies creating gene therapy and drugs.
A few companies are entering trials. You may have heard of FX-322 this is an experimental hearing loss drug where a shot is delivered to the eardrum. Researchers hope it will successfully and safely convert stem cells into stereo-cilia (the hair cell in the cochlear responsible for hearing). They are still in early trials and at this time with people who had sudden hearing sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL) or noise- induced hearing loss. Other gene therapy research is exploring options for children born with sensorineural hearing loss.
All in all, it’s heartening to see the research and it’s important to take into account what we know about the effects of untreated hearing with what we are exploring in the future. Knowledge is empowering!
Advocacy - How you can help now!
Ally’s act is named for 11-year-old Ally who was born without a right ear or hearing canal and her insurance denied the treatment she needed. Her mother created Ear Community and her advocacy efforts ultimately led to Ally’s Act, H.R. 477 and S. 41 which are bipartisan national level bills written to ensure private insurance companies provide coverage for osseointegrated hearing devices (OIDs), including Bone Anchored Hearing Aids (BAHA) and Cochlear Implants (CI), for children and adults birth to age 64, including services, upgrades, surgery and associated costs that come along with these devices. Right now this bill needs support and you can help by writing to your local representatives.
Learn how you can help support this bill and view template letters here Ally's Act!