Hearing loss affects five percent of the population. Five percent doesn’t sound like a lot, but in reality, it’s 360 million people worldwide. That’s a lot of people. As you know from my previous blogs, there’s a special place in my heart for the deaf community, so I find any related information interesting. When I saw the study done with gene therapy on deaf mice, I had to find out more.
The Deaf Culture
Many adults who are deaf were not born that way. I had a teacher when I was learning Sign Language explain to us that she was born hearing, but lost the ability as a child due to meningitis.
Medical technology was not as advanced and this is the outcome for several older deaf people. While deafness can be caused by various circumstances, it is not always the case that a person who is deaf would prefer the ability to hear.
Speaking from my experience in the community, I have known people who are perfectly happy and healthy being deaf and when asked if the opportunity ever arose to change their hearing status, they say they would decline. I know that part of the reason, for a few of these people, is that they don’t want to go through surgery to implant devices or have to mess with hearing aids all the time. They’ve lived their whole lives being deaf and don’t see it as a “disorder” or a “disability.” However, there are those that would accept a change in their hearing abilities. Each person will have their own opinion, and nothing is wrong with either side of it, but I’m very interested to see how this gene therapy study will impact the community.
What is Gene Therapy?
Gene therapy is a type of treatment still in the experimental phase. It involves taking genetic material and introducing it into a person’s cells to fight, or in some cases prevent, a disease. Research is being done with a number of diseases to see how well gene therapy will work in each scenario.
These diseases include immune deficiency disorders, Parkinson’s, some forms of cancer and even HIV. Various approaches are being taken in the testing process, such as replacing a mutated gene, taking out a mutated gene, or introducing a new gene into the body.
Restored Hearing in Mice with Genetic Deafness
While this study is still very experimental, researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School have had successfully restored the hearing of mice with a genetic deafness in their test group. Improvements still need to be made, and while this type of therapy isn’t quite ready for clinical trials, the researchers are hopeful that they can be working with people in the near future.
As I mentioned before, the people I know are very torn on the subject. While I think it’s an enormous breakthrough for people who have lost their hearing later in life, I’m not sure that people who were born deaf would feel the same way.
I would really love to know what other members of the deaf community think about gene therapy and how they feel about the possibility of hearing again. Are you a part of the community? I’d love to hear your thoughts below in the comments section!