WASHINGTON (AP) — Australian researchers have combined cochlear implants with gene therapy in an experiment that improves the hearing of deafened animals.
Cochlear implants partially restore hearing by emitting electrical impulses that activate auditory nerves in the brain. Researchers at Australia's University of New South Wales are working to improve the devices — and use them to stimulate growth of those nerve endings.
First, they squirt a nerve growth-promoting gene into the ears of guinea pigs. Beaming in a few stronger-than-normal electrical pulses drives the genes inside cells where they do their work.
The researchers report in the journal Science Translational Medicine that animals receiving the gene therapy hear better than those given cochlear implants alone.
They caution that the work won't be ready for human testing for a few more years.