Researchers discover genetic biomarker for age-related hearing loss

Published on October 26, 2012 at 1:21 AM · No Comments

Discovery will help aid prevention measures for ailment that affects 30 million Americans

University of South Florida researchers have identified a genetic biomarker for age-related hearing loss, a major breakthrough in understanding and preventing a condition of aging that affects 30 million Americans and greatly diminishes their quality of life.

In a nine-year study that was a collaboration between USF's Global Center for Hearing & Speech Research and the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at the Rochester Institute of Technology, researchers were able to identify the first genetic biomarker for presbycusis. The genetic mutation carried by those who ultimately suffer from age-related hearing loss is linked to speech processing abilities in older people.

Their findings are published in the journal Hearing Research. The study was authored by USF College of Engineering professors Robert Frisina Jr. and Robert Frisina Sr., the founders of the Global Center for Hearing & Speech Research, and David Eddins, a USF associate professor of communication sciences and disorders and chemical and biological engineering.

In collaboration with the House Ear Institute in Los Angeles, the researchers discovered a gene that produces a key protein in the inner ear - the cochlea - called glutamate receptor metabotropic 7 (GRM7). The GRM7 protein is intimately involved in converting sound into the code of the nervous system, in the cochlea, which is then sent to the parts of the brain used for hearing and speech processing.

Now having identified the gene, the researchers said people can be tested and takes steps earlier in life - such as avoiding loud noises, wearing ear protection and avoiding certain medicines known to damage hearing - to protect their hearing.

"This gene is the first genetic biomarker for human age related hearing loss, meaning if you had certain configurations of this gene you would know that you are probably going to lose your hearing faster than someone who might have another configuration," said Robert Frisina Jr.

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