Our genetics play an important role in so many functions of the human body. Different genes, different expressions of genes, and different mutations can all change those functions dramatically. That includes when it comes to our hearing.
Over recent years, more and more studies have honed in on the genetics of hearing and how those may be manipulated to prevent or possibly reverse hearing loss. The newest study out involving these genetics and hereditary hearing loss has shown that help may come in a very unexpected form – that of an anti-malarial drug.
The genetics of hearing loss
While new information is always coming out, and mapping of the genes involved in hearing is ongoing, researchers now know that there are many genes that can cause hearing loss for a variety of reasons. There is a gene that affects the integrity of vital structures in the inner ear and can put you at higher risk of age-related hearing loss. Variations of the FUT2 gene may affect the microbiome of the middle ear and its ability to fight off bacteria that cause ear infections and could lead to hearing loss. A new gene-editing technique even targets and removes a damaged gene linked to hereditary hearing loss.
Exciting research into genetics and hearing loss is progressing at lightning speed, and the newest study is showing just how endless the possibilities may be.
For more than malaria
A new study out of Case Western Reverse University (CWRU) School of Medicine found that the anti-malarial drug artemisinin may be an effective way to combat a specific type of hereditary hearing loss. In some instances of hereditary hearing loss, the proteins that must reach membranes in the inner ear for hearing instead become trapped, preventing hearing. In these cases, individuals have a mutant protein called clarin1.
The team at CWRU took a closer look at how artemisinin and an anti-cancer drug may impact these mutant proteins to prevent them from becoming trapped and changing hearing. Using zebrafish with the mutant proteins, the team used the drugs to “liberate” the trapped proteins.
“Like mammals, zebrafish also develop sensory hair in the inner ear,” said Lead Author, Kumar N. Alagramam, Ph.D. “Also, considerable evidence indicates conservation of gene function in the hair cells of the inner ear across species, from zebrafish to humans.”
While both artemisinin and the anti-cancer drug were able to release the mutant clarin1 protein to allow for hearing, researchers found that the anti-malarial drug artemisinin was the most effective.
With this initial success in hand, the team plans to continue its research with mice before moving on to human clinical trials.
As exciting as research like this is for potential future prevention and cures, it may still be some time before it is considered safe and effective for the average person at risk of hereditary hearing loss. Until then, there are steps you can take to monitor your hearing. Schedule regular hearing evaluations to identify hearing loss as early as possible, and work closely with your hearing healthcare provider to treat and manage hearing loss.
If you have questions about hearing loss and your risk, or you’d like to schedule a hearing evaluation, please contact our office.