Thursday, February 9, 2017
Now Hear This - Gene therapy restores hearing in deaf mice, down to a whisper - RESEARCH
In the summer of 2015, a team at Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School reported restoring rudimentary hearing in genetically deaf mice using gene therapy. Now the Boston Children's research team reports restoring a much higher level of hearing -- down to 25 decibels, the equivalent of a whisper -- using an improved gene therapy vector developed at Massachusetts Eye and Ear.
The new vector and the mouse studies are described in two back-to-back papers in Nature Biotechnology.
While previous vectors have only been able to penetrate the cochlea's inner hair cells, the first Nature Biotechnology study showed that a new synthetic vector, Anc80, safely transferred genes to the hard-to-reach outer hair cells when introduced into the cochlea.
This study's three Harvard Medical School senior investigators were Jeffrey R. Holt PhD, of Boston Children's Hospital; Konstantina Stankovic, MD, PhD, of Mass. Eye and Ear and Luk H. Vandenberghe, PhD, who led Anc80's development in 2015 at Mass. Eye and Ear's Grousbeck Gene Therapy Center.
"We have shown that Anc80 works remarkably well in terms of infecting cells of interest in the inner ear," says Stankovic, an otologic surgeon at Mass. Eye and Ear and associate professor of otolaryngology at Harvard Medical School. "With more than 100 genes already known to cause deafness in humans, there are many patients who may eventually benefit from this technology."
The second study, led by Gwenaëlle Géléoc, PhD, of the Department of Otolaryngology and F.M. Kirby Neurobiology Center at Boston Children's, used Anc80 to deliver a specific corrected gene in a mouse model of Usher syndrome, the most common genetic form of deaf-blindness that also impairs balance function.
"This strategy is the most effective one we've tested," Géléoc says. "Outer hair cells amplify sound, allowing inner hair cells to send a stronger signal to the brain. We now have a system that works well and rescues auditory and vestibular function to a level that's never been achieved before."
Top: Red stain shows mouse hair cells alone.
Middle: Hair cells take up the vector, which carries a gene for green fluorescent protein.
Bottom: All cells that took up the vector are shown in green. Image credit: Charlie Askew and Jeffrey Holt