There are huge differences between people with age-related hearing loss, both in terms of the degree of hearing loss they have and the age at which it develops. We know that age-related hearing loss is related to a range of environmental and genetic factors. The environmental factors have been extensively researched – the genetic factors are less well understood.
Researchers have identified over 100 genes that cause deafness from birth or early life (which, in this particular context, means under 50, when age-related hearing loss starts to kick in). It's possible that different mutations in the genes that are known to cause deafness earlier in life may play a part in age-related hearing loss.
One reason why these genes have not been investigated, in detail, before is that it's very expensive! But, recently, a new technique has been developed. Now, researchers can study the DNA sequence of many genes – in a single experiment – at a relatively low price.
Dr Schraders and her colleagues at Radboud are using this new technique to sequence genes known to cause deafness early in life in people with age-related hearing loss. They are investigating whether the genes have other mutations that are more common in people with age-related hearing loss than people of the same age with normal hearing.
"This project could lead to the identification of genes linked to age-related hearing loss – the first step towards developing drugs to protect or restore hearing."
This project could lead to the identification of genes involved in age-related hearing loss, as well as a better understanding of the processes that underlie it. When we have this knowledge we can develop future therapies to prevent hearing loss – or restore lost hearing. Also, if we can identify people at higher risk of developing hearing loss as they get older, we can talk to them about this – and how they can protect themselves to reduce the impact on their hearing.