One Potential Way to Cure Hearing Loss

At the end of May (May 30), a few days after Americans honored Veterans on Memorial Day, a New England biotech company announced that it had received a grant from the Department of Defense to research a therapeutic opportunity that may help reverse hearing loss.

Cochlear hair cells_Credit- W. McLean
Cochlear Hair Cells. Credit:W. McLean

A 2015 study of almost 50,000 soldiers showed that peak noise levels in combat can reach 180 dB. Combat veterans have a 63% increased risk for hearing loss. Two and a half million veterans have service-connected hearing disabilities.

Clearly there is a need for treatment.

Frequency Therapeutics based in Woburn, Mass., and Farmington, Ct., announced that it had received a $2 million grant from the Department of Defense to investigate the restoration of hearing after noise-related damage as a result of military service-related injuries.

Frequency’s Progenitor Cell Activation, or PCA Regeneration, technique, uses a combination of small-molecule drugs to stimulate inner ear progenitor cells to multiply and create new hair cells. Hair cell regeneration happens spontaneously in fish and birds, but not in mammals.

Humans are born with only 15,000 hair cells in each ear and do not develop any more after birth. Damage to these hair cells over time results in a loss of hearing. Figuring out how to make regeneration happen in mammals would be a major step towards finding a cure for hearing loss, and this goal is being pursued by others in addition to Frequency.

In December, Frequency announced the completion of the first in-human safety and tolerance study of its proprietary drug combination, FX-322. (You can read more about it here.) The drug is injected into the inner ear using a standard intratympanic injection, with the patient awake.  The Phase 1 trial was conducted at Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital in Melbourne, Australia, on 9 adults with severe to profound sensorineural hearing loss who were scheduled for cochlear implant surgery 24 hours after receiving the injection.

In the press release announcing the DOD grant, Frequency noted that the PCA Regeneration platform targets the root cause of disease without removing stem cells from the body. This avoids issues that can develop with traditional stem cell or gene therapy, which can affect cells other than those targeted. Frequency’s FX-322 awakens the dormant progenitor cells already in the ear, initiating cell division and differentiation to repair the damaged hair cells.

Frequency hopes this technique can be used elsewhere in the body as well, to restore healthy tissue, and it has a number of other programs in development including preclinical research in muscle regeneration and type 1 diabetes. Frequency plans to initiate a Phase 2 trial for hearing regeneration in the U.S. later this year.

This grant applies only to military personnel with service-related hearing loss, although of course if the technique is found to work it would be available to others with sensorineural hearing loss. More than 48 million Americans of all ages have some degree of hearing loss.

**

This study is one of many efforts to find a biological cure for hearing loss. I will be writing about others in the coming months. If you are a researcher with relevant information please email me at katherinebouton@gmail.com

 

25 thoughts on “One Potential Way to Cure Hearing Loss

  1. This sounds so promising but how long do we have to wait for this to be real. I’ve been told 10 yrs but I can’t wait that long

    Like

    • I don’t think anyone really can predict. But don’t put off getting a hearing aid or cochlear implant in the hope that a cure is imminent. The research is promising but there are many steps along the way.

      Like

  2. I can’t give you a timetable on this or any of the other studies looking for a way to cure or prevent hearing loss …. but the research is promising.
    Meanwhile, don’t wait for results — get hearing aids or cochlear implant now!

    Like

  3. Katherine,

    Thanks for once again bringing hopeful research to our attention.

    A friend gave me your book two years ago, I could so intensely relate to much of your journey.
    You inspired me to come out of my hearing loss closet and get honest with myself and others.

    I was just implanted by the brilliant and accomplished Dr. Joseph M. Chen in Toronto and am ready for aural rehab boot camp.

    Your writings continue to be a beacon of light in many ways.

    Thanks for keeping us so well informed😊

    Like

  4. Thank you for all the information on hearing loss and the organizations working on curing it. In the meanwhile continue to protect your remaining hearing with ear protection. Join Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA)

    Like

  5. That’s a great news. Hope this one will be a good success. Though I wear hearing aids, since I am not a native English speaker, hearing aids aren’t helping much (Its just 6 months I started using hearing aids) and hearing aids are really expensive 😦

    Like

    • I can imagine the difficulty. Many with more severe hearing losses have trouble understanding people with accents — So for you that would be almost anyone you speak to! Practice a lot — listen to recorded books and check yourself against a written version, try online programs like L.A.C.E., and just wear them all the time. Also your audiologist may be able to program them better for you now that you’ve been wearing them for 6 months.

      Like

  6. This warms my heart to read. My 14 year old son lost his hearing about getting meningitis while in the NICU, 6 weeks after birth. He got a cochlear implant at the age of 2, but it has not served him well. He wears it sparingly. Does not know what to do with the sound he gets from it. He is multiple disabled…cerebral palsy, mild intellectual impairment and autism. I truly believe if he had natural hearing, he would be a different child and his learning would not be so challenging. I pray all the time for this miracle. What I would give for him to be a participant in the trial.

    Like

    • I’m sorry for your son. What a terrible situation. I assume he went through the auditory training with the implant. For most children that training goes on for many years and can make all the difference. Restoring hearing does seem like a miracle, but I think we have a long way to go yet.

      Like

  7. @Dear All:
    Due to phase 1 had been done at late 2017, and finished at early 2018. And phase 2 will be done at late 2018, and can be presumed will be finished early 2019.

    Could we presume phase 3 will be done it mid or late 2019? Because as far as I know, after phase 3, the drug / treatment will be approved by FDA, and can be used in general for public usage. Hence I believe it will be ready at about late 2019 or early 2020 for public usage.

    Thank you.

    Like

    • Dear Ayanda, I am not a doctor or a researcher, just a person with hearing loss. You need to see a mental-health professional who can help you get through this period. People do adjust to tinnitus but it can take a long time — and it can require a trained therapist. Suicidal thoughts should never be taken lightly. Please try to find a mental health professional who can help you.

      Like

  8. I am a young boy at the age of 15 and I am deaf I can hear only a little bit. I have a younger sibling and he is deaf as well, while growing up I have dealt with bullying a lot. I felt alone and insecure about my self and I always hoped that one day I could wake up one morning and hear with my own ears. I have hearing aids and I had them my whole life, I am very anxious for the cure or treatment for hearing loss. I can speak and I´m a new freshman in high school, I am shy about my hearing aids and always hate when people look at them or ask what they are. It always bothers me that I might not hear someone as well while talking and having to lean in or ask what they said. I beg that one day in my life, I can hear using my own ears, It would be very exciting and amazing. At this young age I tell my self I want to live alone or maybe have a wife but no children since I know they will come out just like me if a cure is never found, I wish they never have to go through such a hard life like I did. I thank you for your hard work to make kids like me have a better and bright future.

    Kevin Aguirre

    Like

    • Dear Kevin, Thank you so much for your comment. Nobody knows when a cure will be available but you’re young and from what I know you’ll see a cure in the next 10-20 years. I am not a scientist, and even the scientists can’t predict. But I think this is a reasonable conservative estimate. Meanwhile keep using your hearing aids. The more your brain hears, the better it will be able to cope with language if you eventually get a cochlear implant — or a cure!
      This book is a little young for you, but El Deafo is a wonderful funny graphic novel about a girl with hearing aids who discovers that her technology (basically an FM system) gives her super-hearo status in school.

      Like

  9. @Ayanda, I just saw your words. When you heard tinnitus, use your two hands to cover your ears, move your fingers knock your back of head that make sound in your head to stop tinnitus. That is working for me.

    Like

    • If this works for you, that’s great. But for many with tinnitus, the solution is complicated. Hearing aids that mask the sound and therapy to teach you to ignore the sound are both widely used techniques. Minimizing stress, possibly lowering salt intake, may also help. But for some tinnitus is intractable and can be debilitating.

      Like

Leave a Reply to Katherine Bouton Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s