Sometimes a drug which has failed to show improvement in one disease works for another. Such is the case with an experimental drug known as a gamma secretase inhibitor (where in God’s name do these researchers find such names?). It didn’t work for Alzheimers’ patients, so for one reason I don’t yet understand, some dudes at Harvard thought-well, why not test this drug on the inner ears of deafened mice. (Is it just me or how did these researchers make the connection between the two problems?).
You see it turns out that most hearing loss is caused by loud noises (think Led Zepellin concerts in the 70’s). These hairs convert sound waves into electrical signals which the brain can then process. Once destroyed, these specialized hair cells do not grow back, except if you happen to be a fish or bird. In other words, the specialized hearing hairs you are born with are the only hairs you’ll ever have.When the drug was applied to these deaf mice, it caused inner ear cells to transform into hair cells. About 20% of hearing was eventually restored.You might not think that 20% is not a big deal, but remember these were completely deaf mice, so any hearing is better than none.
Now before you start buying stock in some Harvard based research startup, you should realize that mice, while mammals, are not humans. Many more studies need to be completed to see if this drug is safe and effective for humans suffering from hearing loss. Still, with the pace of technology, one day we may see a cure for permanent hearing loss that depends on regeneration of hair cells.
The next obvious question, mainly for balding males, would be is this the next Rogaine? Can this drug transform my excess nasal and ear hair into scalp hair? Well, for that cure you might have to wait quite a bit longer. Until then turn down the IPod and stay away from Metallica concerts!