Hearing loss is a prevalent problem for elderly Australians, with hearing impairments only worsening as you age.
Almost 60 per cent of Aussies aged 61-70 have some form of hearing loss, and that rises to 74 per cent for people aged 71-plus.
Otherwise known as presbycusis, age-related hearing loss is gradual, usually starts at about 50 years of age and most often it affects the ability to hear high-pitched sounds, such as a phone ringing or a beeping microwave.
Both ears are usually equally affected, with men often suffering worse deterioration than women. In fact, most men are expected to have some kind of hearing loss by the age of 65.
One of the most common causes of hearing loss is because damaged cochlear hair cells, the primary cells in your ear that detect sound waves, can’t regenerate.
Now, according to a recently published study from the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, neuroscientists are one step closer to finding out ways to promote cochlear cell regeneration in mammals.
“We know from our previous work that expression of an active growth gene, called ERBB2, was able to activate the growth of new hair cells (in mammals), but we didn’t fully understand why,” says Patricia White, professor of neuroscience and otolaryngology at the University of Rochester Medical Center.
“This new study tells us how that activation is happening—a significant advance toward the ultimate goal of generating new cochlear hair cells in mammals.”
White and her team found that by using single-cell RNA sequencing in mice and comparing it with cells with the overactive growth gene ERBB2 it promoted the production of a protein that signals CD44 receptors, which are found in cochlear cells.
The increase in cell reproduction marked a key indicator of regeneration.
“When we checked this process in adult mice, we were able to show that ERBB2 expression drove the protein expression of SPP1 that is necessary to activate CD44 and grow new hair cells,” said study first author Dr Dorota Piekna-Przybylska.
“This discovery has made it clear that regeneration is not only restricted to the early stages of development. We believe we can use these findings to drive regeneration in adults.”
White added that she and her team are planning to further investigate this “phenomenon from a mechanistic perspective to determine whether it can improve auditory function after damage in mammals,” noting that cochlear cell regeneration was “the ultimate goal”.
If you think you may have hearing loss, make an appointment with your GP, who can then recommend an audiologist. Once diagnosed, there are many treatment options you can weigh up, including hearing aids and implantable hearing solutions such as a cochlear implant.
IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.