by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
From time to time the news media reports that scientists have identified yet another gene that causes deafness, and always there is the statement that this will help end hearing loss, as though a cure for hearing loss was right around the corner.
Here’s an example of one that just came out, “Scripps research scientists identify genetic cause for type of deafness. Discovery could lead to new therapies for progressive hearing loss.”
The article begins: “A team led by scientists from The Scripps Research Institute has discovered a genetic cause of progressive hearing loss. The findings will help scientists better understand the nature of age-related decline in hearing and may lead to new therapies to prevent or treat the condition.
The findings were published September 3, 2009, in an advance, online issue of the American Journal of Human Genetics, a publication of Cell Press.”
This release is like many before it—sounds good, but promises little. However, this article contains an interesting gem of information. A bit further down it states, “It is thought that mutations in several hundred genes can lead to deafness,” said team leader Ulrich Mueller, a professor in the Department of Cell Biology and member of the Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology at Scripps Research. “However, for many forms of deafness, we don’t know what effects the genes have.”
The truth is, hearing loss is a complex condition. There are not just one or two or even a few genes associated with hearing loss, but hundreds of genes and combinations of genes. At present, scientists are nowhere near close to identifying all these numerous gene combinations, let alone understanding how they cause deafness, or how they can use this information to reverse or prevent hearing loss in the future.
I’m glad researchers are busy investigating the many genetic causes of hearing loss. Every little discovery is a step in the right direction, and I’m all for it. However, just don’t hold your breath believing that a cure for your hearing loss is going to be forthcoming any time soon.