One of the most promising signs of a future without hearing loss.

Unlike birds and fish, when mammals damage the hair cells which allow the ear to hear they do not grow back. That’s why hearing loss is inevitable as we grow older, and why it’s risky to listen to too much loud music. But multiple studies suggest we’re getting closer to being able to reverse hearing loss by regrowing the inner-ear hair cells.

According to a report in The Atlantic, Dutch company Audion Therapeutics will soon begin human trials on a drug that has successfully regrown hair cells in mice. The discovery was made in 2013 when a report on the ‘notch inhibitor’ used to treat dementia showed side effects of treating deafness.

“We thought, ‘These side effects in an Alzheimer’s patient are exactly what we’re looking for in treating deafness’,” says Audion’s Dr. Albert Edge. “So we decided to try that idea out in these mice.”

The company is currently working with pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly to develop the compounds and has received stimulus money from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 fund.

Audion already has competition. US-based start-up Frequency Therapeutics has also filed patents for a notch inhibitor used to regrow hair cells using a drug administered directly to the inner ear.

Considering these are only recently discovered treatments for something thought to be untreatable, expect a long wait before anything substantial comes to light. But these promising first steps towards a future without hear loss are unprecedented and very exciting.

Last year the World Health Organisation warned that up to 1 billion young people are at risk of hearing loss, with the threat coming from MP3 players used at dangerous volumes and exposure to damaging noise levels at venues.

FACT’s Angus Finlayson explored dance music’s relationship to hearing loss in 2012 after Larry Heard announced his retirement from DJing to protect his hearing.

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