In 2006, the ever amazing Dr. Stefan Heller – amazing because of his remarkable pioneering role in research into a cure for deafness – predicted that we would reverse hearing loss in an animal. He said it would take about five years. Five years later, hearing loss was reversed in a mouse model. Eerily accurate but MISTER ScienceAintSoBad wasn’t surprised. Heller knows his stuff. He’s been at the forefront of this field since it began. (He is at Stanford University’s School of Medicine).
Where do things stand now? It’s been two and a half years since the first mouse was “cured” of deafness and already we have human trials. In about two months, a human trial will actually begin for adults. Dr. Hinrich Straeker (University of Kansas Medical Center) will be in charge. His team will insert a gene (the Atoh1 gene) into the ears of the volunteers. The Athoh1 gene is involved in supporting the “microphone of the inner ear” (hair cells). It worked for mice. They had, on average, about a 20 db improvement in hearing. It would be nice if it worked that well for people. Novertis (the pharma company) is partnering on the research.
There’s also a study gearing up at Childrens Memorial Hermann Hospital in Texas which is aimed at kids. Dr. Samer Fakhri, is the lead. Stem cells taken from cord blood will be used. This is a phase 1 (make sure nothing bad happens) study – an important step.
Just about everything I read about this stuff contains a don’t-get-your-hopes-up warning reminding us that it could take years – decades probably – before you see anything like a cure for deafness.
You know what? That’s fine. But I love the fact that we have finally reached the point where human studies have begun. If we can somehow increase the meager trickle of funds that supports this research, maybe we can speed things up even more. Spending on hearing loss research is very efficient. You get a lot for your dollar. Graduate student researchers are cheap.
Dr. Heller tells me his “naive dream” is to develop a way to get funding direct from individuals – grass roots funding, as he calls it – where “every person suffering from hearing loss would gives $5 – $10. That would be huge,” he says, “because, right now, almost everything comes from just two institutions, the Stanford Initiative To Cure Hearing Loss and The Hearing Restoration Project. And the available funds are very limited. Ten dollars to either of these instutions would make a big difference.”
MISTER ScienceAintSoBad would sincerely appreciate it if you would ask your friends to give. It’s a great cause.
RESEARCH CENTER FOR HEARING LOSS
Even better . let’s establish – this is Stefan’s idea too – a major research center. The laboratories where much of this work takes place are scattered. Why not relocate them into a a single hearing research center, intensifying and focusing the effort of several individual labs? A donation from a private benefactor (or more) could make this happen. With interest rates this low, what are you going to do with all your unproductive investment dollars anyway? Can you think of anything that could change more lives?
A large segment of the population – especially the elderly – live with the world “turned off” because they can’t hear anymore. With your generous help, that can change.
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The drawing is mine (He look better in real life).