According to the journal Nature, scientists from Broad Institute have successfully performed gene editing experiments on mice, treating genetic hearing loss. This technique may someday be used to prevent and treat deafness in children born in families with a history of hearing loss. Before that happens, extensive tests will have to be performed in order to determine the safety of said treatment, and to see if it works for humans.
“We’re hopeful that our results will help guide the development of such strategies,” says David Liu, a genetic engineer at Broad Institute, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University. “Humans that are born with even one bad copy of this gene experience progressive hearing loss that’s evident in their early childhood and by the time they reach late childhood they’re profoundly deaf,” Liu says.
Liu uses a gene-editing tool designed to remove the defective genes that destroy the tiny hairs inside the ear. Liu injected the gene-editor into the mice’s ears the day after they were born. These mice still have the healthy version of the necessary gene, so eliminating the defective gene allowed for the healthy one to develop. Liu tested the mice a month later, revealing that the treated ears had a much better ability to hear quieter sounds than the untreated ears.
Similar gene-editors may be eventually used to prevent hearing loss in babies born with the same defect, and potentially to restore hearing to people who lost it due to infections or noise.