Progressive hearing loss, such as age-related hearing loss, where hearing loss worsens with time, is a common problem that affects many people in the UK. At the moment, there are no medical treatments available, only prosthetic devices such as hearing aids and cochlear implants, which cannot completely compensate for the loss of normal hearing. To develop effective treatments to restore natural hearing, we need to have a greater knowledge of the genes involved in this kind of hearing loss and how these genes work together and interact with each other in the ear.
There is a group of genes called microRNAs; unlike most genes, which provide the blueprint to produce proteins, microRNAs control other genes. In the inner ear, a microRNA called miR-96 controls many other genes and co-ordinates the development of the sensory cells required for normal hearing. Mutations in this gene cause hearing loss in both humans and mice. miR-96 controls genes which are important for hearing, but as yet, we don't know how it does so.
The main aim of this project is to investigate the changes in the inner ear of mice which have the same mutations in miR-96 as people, in order to ultimately find ways to treat hearing loss in people. The researchers will study the hearing of and the structure of the inner ears of these mice, to understand what goes wrong as hearing loss progresses. They will also find out more about the genes controlled by miR-96 and how they interact with each other, to discover new genes involved in deafness and to identify genes which could be targeted by drugs to treat hearing loss.
This will help them to explore links between genes, to discover new genes involved in hearing and identify potential targets for treatment of progressive hearing loss.
This research will benefit people with hearing loss by:
- improving our understanding of what can go wrong in the inner ear and how that affects hearing. This will help us develop appropriate drug treatments for different types of hearing loss.
- discovering new genes involved in hearing, so that people who have hearing loss due to mutations in these genes will be able to find out the reason for their hearing loss. This is very helpful for patients and their families.
- identifying genes whose activity can be targeted by drugs to prevent hearing loss or restore hearing. To do that, we need to know which genes are important for hearing and how their activity needs to be changed by the drugs.