For many people, hearing tends to go with age as the mechanisms in the inner ear that detect sound degenerate — a simple fact researchers at Rockefeller University say they may be able to reverse. In a study published online Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, study author Ksenia Gnedeva says researchers may have located proteins inside the ear that can possibly be turned on later in life to produce new cells and correct any hearing loss caused by time, damage or abnormalities.
"Our ultimate goal is to find a target that would allow us to restore hair cells later on in life," Gnedeva said, according to NeuroScience News. "It appears possible that these proteins, or perhaps other steps in the same pathway, might be potential targets."
How it works: Hair cells found within the inner ear are responsible for hearing and balance in humans, as well as lab mice and other animals. When those cells are damaged or stop producing new hair cells, the result is a loss of those functions.
When Gnedeva and her team turned on the proteins within the mice ears, new hair cells began forming.
"These results imply that SoxC genes govern hair cell production and thus advance these genes as targets for the restoration of hearing and balance," the study notes.
A common issue: According to HearingLoss.org, nearly 20% of all Americans report having hearing loss, or 48 million, while 1 out of 3 people across the nation will experience hearing loss by 65. As the study notes, once genes stop producing hair cells within the ear, there currently is no solution, other than subsiding the loss with hearing aids. The news could mean scientists are one step closer to coming up with a cure for hearing loss, or at least further options to prevent the loss by age or damage.