In a groundbreaking experiment, scientists in China claim they were able to give deaf children the ability to hear after subjecting them to a novel genetic treatment, according to MIT Technology Review.
The scientists say they modified a harmless virus by implanting it with new genetic code and then injecting the resulting viruses into the children's cochlea, a spiral-shaped cavity in the ear that's filled with fluid — an experiment that they say has sparked hearing in four out of five children who received the treatment.
The genetic material inserted into the viruses is a copy of the otoferlin gene, which produces a protein of the same name that's essential for the process of sending information from the inner ear to the brain. People with an otoferlin gene defect constitute 1 to 3 percent of worldwide congenital deafness.
But when the modified viruses are injected into the ear, they replace the defective gene, giving the kids 60 to 65 percent of a typical hearing ability, Shanghai's Fudan University scientist and head and neck surgeon Yilai Shu told MIT Tech.
Though the treatment targets a rare type of deafness, scientists think it could pave the way for restoring hearing for other forms of congenital deafness.
Other researchers outside China have been hard at work developing genetic therapy targeting the otoferlin gene as well, such as a project at Cambridge University and another by pharmaceutical company Regeneron, which said on October 26 that a child was showing positive results after participating in a clinical trial of its own.
Now that's music to our ears.
More on genetic research: Doctors Testing Gene Therapy to Cure a Type of Deafness