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Hope for drug that prevents hearing loss in old age

Posted Nov 12 2009 10:01pm

old man with hearing aid.jpg Scientists in America claim to have pinpointed the gene that causes hearing loss in old age. The research revealed that a gene called ‘bak’ is the main cause of developing the condition.

This could lead to various medical breakthroughs which stop the affects of the gene, preventing millions from becoming deaf. Hearing aids can help amplify the sounds hard-of-hearing people are able to hear, but are unable to provide full hearing capabilities. Age-related hearing loss affects half of Britons aged 60 and over.

The research initially conducted tests on mice that lacked the gene and found their hearing stayed sharp as they aged.

Further experiments, showed how ‘bak’ leads to loss of hearing. This is because, as humans age, the delicate cells in the inner ear that help the brain translate vibrations into sound become more and more damaged.

According to the researchers, bak eventually triggers their demise and, because human bodies have no way of replacing the missing cells, hearing is affected.

A drug that reins in ‘bak’ could stop people going deaf as they age, with such a treatment likely to be developed within 15 years. The research showed that certain anti-oxidants cut the damage done to the inner ear cells, as they stopped ‘bak’ from acting, thus preserving the mice's hearing.

Dr Ralph Holme, of the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID), said: 'This research is an important step towards finding effective ways to halt age-related hearing loss.'

But he acknowledged further research was needed to 'gauge the real significance of these findings to the human population'.

As featured in the Daily Mail.

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