Cure for Hearing Loss in a Decade Accelerates as Nation’s “Dream Team” of Scientists Collaborate
NEW YORK, Oct. 3, 2011 /PRNewswire/ — Hearing Health Foundation, long at the forefront of trailblazing initiatives in hearing and balance science, today hosted the 2011 Summit: The Promise of Cell Regeneration, the first public-focused health conference bringing together the nation’s leaders in the field of cell regeneration research in the ear to discuss current research and potential therapies to restore hearing through the Hearing Restoration Project (HRP).
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“If we can replicate in mammals the regeneration that occurs in chicks, it may hold the promise for a cure for hearing loss in humans,” said Dr. George A. Gates, HRP Scientific Director. “Many labs are on the cusp of major breakthroughs in this field of research, using technologies – in the areas of stem cell research and gene mapping, for example – that didn’t exist 25 years ago when the discovery of regeneration was first made in chicks, so we are hugely optimistic about the outcome.”
Twenty-five years ago, researchers discovered that birds have the ability to spontaneously re-grow damaged hair cells in their inner ears. Hair cells convert sound information into electrical signals that are sent to the brain. Once human hair cells die, hearing loss is permanent. The challenge is to find a way to trigger hair cell re-growth within humans, leveraging findings in chicks and zebrafish, as these animals have demonstrated the ability to automatically regenerate damaged hair cells that conduct auditory signals to the brain.
The HRP launch is timely, given that 36 million Americans suffer from some form of hearing loss and that number is expected to double by 2030. Impairment of hearing loss and tinnitus also occurs in 60% of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan; it is more prevalent than post-traumatic stress disorder. Additionally, adolescent hearing loss is on the rise – a jump of 15 percent in the last decade, according to a recent Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) article, with 1 in 5 teenagers now suffering from hearing loss.
The HRP is a Consortium made up of some of the most talented, creative, inspired researchers in the area of cell regeneration in the ear, both mid-level and senior-level investigators whose work has already contributed significantly to the field. The Consortium is an alliance of scientists working collaboratively and interactively with the goal of developing a biologic cure for severe sensorineural hearing loss in the next decade. At the Summit, experts discussed an area of particular promise: hair cell regeneration in humans.
“Hearing Health Foundation understands that it is important to invest in researchers who are working in hair cell regeneration as this will be an important component in the next wave of hearing treatments,” said Andrea Boidman, Executive Director of Hearing Health Foundation. “Hearing research needs to be a national priority, and people need to know that there are treatments on the horizon that could really impact their lives.”
For Dr. John Brigande, an HRP Consortium Member working at Oregon Health & Science University, it’s personal. “My hearing loss has inspired my work in a way that would not have been possible without experiencing it firsthand.”
The Summit was followed by a fundraising reception, Celebrating the Senses, which featured a live performance by SRC/Universal Republic recording artist Shontelle and the premiere of a multimedia art installation by composer and artist Jay Alan Zimmerman, whose work utilizes rhythmic video projections, visual music, and synesthesia and was an outcome of his own hearing loss.
“As a composer, losing my hearing made me lose my sense of self. Like a chef losing his sense of taste, I mourned all the tasty morsels of sound I would never get to enjoy again, and finally got so frustrated… I wrote a musical about it,” said Mr. Zimmerman. “Hearing loss is not something you ‘get over’ – you have to face it, fight it, mourn it every day.”
The Hearing Restoration Project will offer countless millions hope and a dream that someday they might be able to enjoy hearing their own music again, have a casual conversation with family and friends, or enjoy the sounds of a Broadway show.
Mr. Zimmerman added, “I realize it is a long shot that I’ll ever hear again the way I used to. But maybe the next generation will never have to find out what it feels like to lose a sense you love.”
About the Hearing Restoration Project
The Hearing Restoration Project will bring together an innovative model – collaboration between 10 major hearing loss research centers in the United States, with full sharing of technologies, data, and credit. Significant funds have already been raised, but the HRP needs $50 million over 10 years to fund this important work.
The HRP members include top researchers in the field, affiliated with Baylor College of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, House Research Institute, Oregon Health & Science University, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stowers Institute for Medical Research, University of Michigan, University of California San Diego, University of Washington, and Washington University Medical Center. To learn more, or to apply to join the consortium, visit www.hearingrestorationproject.org.
About Hearing Health Foundation
Hearing Health Foundation is the United States’ leading source of private funding for research in hearing and balance science. Past research made possible by Hearing Health Foundation grants has resulted in dramatic innovations that have increased options for those living with hearing and balance disorders, and protected those at risk. Since our inception in 1958, we have awarded more than $26.5 million through more than 2,000 scientific research grants to researchers who are dedicated to exploring new avenues of hearing and balance science. Hearing Health Foundation also publishes the award-winning Hearing Health Magazine. To learn more, or to support this work, visit www.hearinghealthfoundation.org.
Contact: Libby Schnee
SOURCE Hearing Health Foundation