Wednesday, February 16, 2005

92: Gene therapy restores hearing in deaf animals

Gene therapy restores hearing in deaf animals | Science Blog:

"We inserted a gene called Atoh1, a key regulator of auditory hair cell development, into non-sensory epithelial cells that remain in the deafened inner ears of adult guinea pigs, whose original hair cells were destroyed by exposure to ototoxic drugs," Raphael explains. "Eight weeks after treatment, we found new auditory hair cells in the Atoh1 -treated ears of the research animals. Auditory tests indicated that the generation of new hair cells coincided with restoration of hearing thresholds."

Raphael describes Atoh1 (formerly known as Math1) as a "pro-hair cell gene," which normally is active only during embryonic development. Originally discovered in fruit flies, the gene is present in all animals, including humans. During the embryonic stage of animal development, Atoh1 is turned on, or expressed, in inner ear cells destined to become hair cells, while its expression is inhibited in supporting (non-sensory) cells.
A gene that occurs in everything from insects to humans, with similar function across all those species? That's common descent.