A team of MIT scientists behind the biotech firm Frequency Therapeutics say they have developed a new type of regenerative therapy that can reverse hearing loss, without the need of hearing aids or cochlear implants.
By programming special kinds of human cells called progenitor cells, the team discovered a new way to encourage the growth of hair cells inside the cochlea.
These hair cells allow us to hear, but they die off over time or when exposed to excess noise. They usually don’t grow back, but allowing the ear to regenerate them could bring back at least some degree of hearing. In experiments, the team was able to improve trial participants’ ability to perceive speech.
“Speech perception is the No. 1 goal for improving hearing and the No. 1 need we hear from patients,” says Frequency co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer Chris Loose PhD ’07.
In Frequency’s first clinical study, the company saw statistically significant improvements in speech perception in some participants after a single injection, with some responses lasting nearly two years.
The company has dosed more than 200 patients to date and has seen clinically meaningful improvements in speech perception in three separate clinical studies. Another study failed to show improvements in hearing compared to the placebo group, but the company attributes that result to flaws in the design of the trial.
Frequency is recruiting for a 124-person trial, and they hope to have results available by early 2023. The scientists are hopeful their new technique could have lasting effects in the near future.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if in ten or 15 years, because of the resources being put into this space and the incredible science being done,” said Frequency co-founder Jeff Karp in the statement, “we can get to the point where [reversing hearing loss] would be similar to Lasik surgery, where you’re in and out in an hour or two and you can completely restore your vision.”
“I think we’ll see the same thing for hearing loss,” he added.
ARTICLE: PAUL MURDOCH
MANAGING EDITOR: CARSON CHOATE
PHOTO CREDITS: WALL STREET JOURNAL