Despite modern medicine, one in 1,000 American babies are born deaf. The numbers increase markedly with age, with more than 50% of seniors in the United States experiencing some form of hearing loss.
But the era of the hearing aid, and shouting at aging in-laws, may soon be over. A new, landmark study by a world-renowned geneticist and hearing loss expert at Tel Aviv University has uncovered one of the root causes of deafness.
Prof. Karen Avraham of the Department of Human Molecular Genetics, Sackler School of Medicine at Tel Aviv University, has discovered that microRNAs, tiny molecules that regulate cell functions, help us hear. Found in "hair" cells of the ear, this discovery opens an entirely new window for possible treatments, and a cure for all types of deafness, age-related or genetic.
"Over the last decade, science has found that microRNAs are involved in heart disease, and in cancer, and for the first time ever, our lab shows that these tiny regulators in all our cells can cause deafness," says Prof. Avraham, whose groundbreaking work has previously discovered 4 deafness genes and novel mutations in 15 deafness genes, among 46 known ones.
Understanding the Hard of Hearing
Prof. Avraham's results published this month in the prestigious journal the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, shows scientists an important factor that could cause deafness. It may lead to potential ways to ameliorate deafness, even in people where the hearing loss has no genetic basis, like after a major injury to the ear. Her recent study investigated mice and zebrafish, but the model holds true for all vertebrates ― including humans, she says. In separate studies in the UK and Spain, mutations in a single microRNA were just reported to cause deafness in humans and mice, showing the importance of microRNAs in the inner ear.
"We've found that 'hair' cell microRNAs are regulators involved
|Contact: George Hunka|
American Friends of Tel Aviv University