The ability to hear is an important ability for a species living in society, such as humans. This is a key function for understanding and interacting with fellow human beings. However, hearing depends on a fragile system that quickly breaks down when exposed to increasingly noisy environments. Almost 1.5 billion people around the world suffer from hearing loss, and in France there are 6 million people who are hard of hearing.
This disease affects all segments of the population, although the elderly are mostly affected (65% of people aged 65 years and older suffer from hearing loss compared to 6% of people aged 15-24). To combat this scourge, two methods are used today, depending on the severity of its severity: hearing aids and hearing implants. For mild hearing impairment, a simple hearing aid that serves as a sound amplifier is sufficient. But when it’s too loud, this simple external tool only allows the user to hear distorted sounds. This is because his lack of hearing is rooted deep in his cochlea, an organ deep inside his ear that translates sounds into auditory signals, which are then transmitted to the brain via the auditory nerve.
For the treatment of these cases of profound deafness, ear implants are preferred because they transmit sounds through electrical signals inside the cochlea using electrodes. These methods have proven effective, but have never allowed their users to regain normal hearing: they are a palliative, but by no means a solution to the problem of deafness.
As part of Sound Week, which takes place in January 2023, a conference was organized at UNESCO on January 18, dedicated to four innovative treatments aimed at definitively curing hearing loss.
1) Gene therapy, the preferred solution for overcoming deafness
The most advanced work in finding cures for deafness has focused on the building blocks of life. Researchers have been working for decades to identify genes whose mutations can lead to sensorineural deafness, which affects the inner ear. To date, researchers have identified 134 genes responsible for as many forms of sensorineural hearing loss.