New genetic treatment successfully lets deaf children hear

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According to MIT Technology Review, researchers in China say that by giving deaf youngsters a revolutionary genetic therapy, they were able to restore their hearing in a ground-breaking trial.

In an experiment that they claim has restored hearing in four of the five children who received the treatment, the scientists altered a benign virus by inserting new genetic code into it. The resulting viruses were then injected into the children’s cochlea, a fluid-filled, spiral-shaped cavity in the ear.

The otoferlin gene, which codes for a protein that is critical for information transfer from the inner ear to the brain, is a replica of the genetic material that was introduced into the viruses. One to three percent of congenital deaf people worldwide have an otoferlin gene abnormality.

But according to Yilai Shu, a head and neck surgeon at Shanghai’s Fudan University, the modified viruses replace the damaged gene when they are injected into the ear, providing the children 60 to 65 percent of their normal hearing capacity, as reported by MIT Tech.

Despite focusing on an uncommon kind of deafness, researchers believe the therapy may open the door to hearing restoration for other congenital deafness types.

Outside of China, other scientists have been working hard to develop genetic therapy that targets the otoferlin gene. Two such projects are being carried out by Cambridge University and the pharmaceutical company Regeneron, which announced on October 26 that a child had shown encouraging results from taking part in its own clinical trial.

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