he Hearing Health Foundation and the Future of Hearing Loss Research

Summarized by Jennee Harmuth, Staff Writer

The Hearing Health Foundation’s Hearing Restoration Project (HRP) is committed to discovering a cure for hearing loss and tinnitus (a ringing in the ears which is sometimes associated with hearing loss) within the next ten years. In an exclusive email interview between DeafandHoH.com and Shari Eberts, the Chairman of the Board of Directors of HHF, Eberts delineated the progress the HRP has made and described the impact she hopes the research will have on the hard of hearing community.

The Hearing Restoration Project, which was founded in 2011, focuses on enabling humans to regenerate inner ear hair. As Eberts explained, hearing loss is often caused by “damage to the delicate hairs of the inner ear.” Through a series of experiments in 1987, HHF-funded scientists made the “breakthrough” discovery that birds are capable of regenerating inner ear hair. These experiments led researchers to question whether humans could be made to regenerate inner ear hair.

“The amazing thing is that regeneration happens naturally and very robustly in almost all animals—mammals are the exception,” said Eberts. “This makes HHF and the researchers confident that we will find a way to stimulate this regeneration in mammals, including humans,” Eberts said.

Recently, HRP scientists learned that mice can be stimulated regenerate ear hair cells. These results demonstrate that ear hair cell regeneration is possible for mammals.

The HRP operates under a 10 year strategic plan that involves three different phases. Eberts explained the particulars of each of the three phases.

Phase I, which the HRP is in right now, focuses on discovering which genes allow certain animals to be able to regenerate hair cells; which genes in mammals prevent mammals from naturally regenerating hair cells; and which types of cells in “mammals’ ears that could serve as available targets for regeneration therapies.”

Phase II then “starts with the residual cells that remain in a mammal’s inner ear after hearing loss and uses the genes identified in Phase I to trigger hair cell regeneration.”

“Phase III will feature the HRP Consortium partnering with a pharmaceutical or other company to develop drugs that mimic the identified genes, resulting in a regenerative therapy.” Eberts’s own hearing loss inspires her to search for a cure for hearing loss and tinnitus. “My own personal hearing loss motivates me to search for a cure, as it allows me to understand the difficulties others with hearing loss face on a daily basis,” she said. Eberts developed hearing loss during her late twenties.

“When you have hearing loss, it impacts your life almost every minute of every day,” Eberts said. Although self-advocacy and having a support system of family and friends is invaluable to managing life as a deaf and hard of hearing person in the world, finding a cure for hearing loss could dramatically change a person’s life and ability to communicate with others.

However, in the meantime, while members of the hard of hearing community await further developments on the cure, Eberts offered some suggestions as to how people could raise awareness about and contribute to the cure for hearing loss/tinnitus.

These are her suggestions:

  1. Visit our website, www.hhf.org to learn more
  2. Stay up to date on all the latest news by liking us on Facebook and following us on Twitter
  3. Sign up for our informative monthly e-newsletter
  4. Subscribe to Hearing Health Magazine, our award-winning leading consumer publication on hearing loss. Get the latest on research breakthroughs, strategies to manage hearing loss, personal stories, hearing technologies and products, and features on seniors, pediatrics, veterans, musicians and more.
  5. Inspire others by sharing your personal story and draw comfort from the stories of others.
  6. Create a fundraising event or giving page.
  7. Make a tribute gift to honor a loved one with hearing loss or a favorite audiologist.
  8. Support our work with a tax-deductible donation.

Additionally, Eberts added that “while we wait for the cure, we encourage people with hearing loss to seek treatment for the condition through hearing aids or other means, so that they can enjoy the highest quality of life possible, while they wait.” The Hearing Restoration Project is certainly making exciting developments and research in the world of hearing loss. Perhaps, within the next ten years, there will be a pharmaceutical cure for regenerating inner ear hair, and thereby enabling those with hearing loss and/or tinnitus to recover some or all of their hearing. “While ten years may seem like a long time, and it is for someone like myself who lives with hearing loss every day, it is realistically within my lifetime,” Eberts said. “And that gives me hope and excites me for the future.”

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