MIT Researchers Reverse Hearing Loss By Regenerating Inner Ear Hair Growth

A derivative from MIT, Frequency Therapeutics, has a brand new drug candidate that stimulates the expansion of hair cells within the internal ear.

Zach Winn | MIT News

Most of us know somebody affected by listening to loss, however we might not absolutely respect the hardships that lack of listening to can carry. Hearing loss can result in isolation, frustration, and a debilitating ringing within the ears often called tinnitus. It can be carefully correlated with dementia.

The biotechnology firm Frequency Therapeutics is looking for to reverse listening to loss—not with listening to aids or implants, however with a brand new form of regenerative remedy that makes use of small molecules to program progenitor cells, a descendant of stem cells within the internal ear, to create the tiny hair cells that enable us to listen to.

Hair cells die off when uncovered to loud noises or medication together with sure chemotherapies and antibiotics. Frequency’s drug candidate is designed to be injected into the ear to regenerate these cells throughout the cochlea. In medical trials, the corporate has already improved individuals’s listening to as measured by assessments of speech notion — the flexibility to grasp speech and acknowledge phrases.

“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.

In Frequency’s first medical examine, the corporate noticed statistically important enhancements in speech notion in some members after a single injection, with some responses lasting practically two years.

The firm has dosed greater than 200 sufferers up to now and has seen clinically significant enhancements in speech notion in three separate medical research.


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Now, Frequency is recruiting for a 124-person trial from which preliminary outcomes needs to be out there early subsequent yr.

They imagine they’re making vital contributions towards fixing an issue that impacts greater than 40 million individuals within the U.S. and lots of of hundreds of thousands extra world wide.

“Hearing is such an important sense; it connects people to their community and cultivates a sense of identity,” says Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology affiliate school member Jeff Karp, who can be a professor of anesthesia at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “I think the potential to restore hearing will have enormous impact on society.”

From the lab to sufferers

At MIT in 2005, Lucchino was an MBA scholar and Loose a PhD candidate in chemical engineering when MIT Institute Professor Robert Langer launched the 2 aspiring entrepreneurs, and so they began engaged on what would change into Semprus BioSciences, a medical gadget firm that they later bought for $80 million.

Eight years after enjoying matchmaker for Lucchino and Loose, Langer started working with Karp to check the liner of the human intestine, which regenerates itself nearly daily.

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With MIT postdoc Xiaolei Yin, who’s now a scientific advisor to Frequency, the researchers found that the identical molecules that management the intestine’s stem cells are additionally utilized by a detailed descendant of stem cells known as progenitor cells. Like stem cells, progenitor cells can flip into extra specialised cells within the physique.

Progenitor cells reside within the internal ear and generate hair cells when people are in utero, however they change into dormant earlier than start and by no means once more flip into extra specialised cells such because the hair cells of the cochlea. Humans are born with about 15,000 hair cells in every cochlea. Such cells die over time and by no means regenerate.

In 2012, the analysis group was in a position to make use of small molecules to show progenitor cells into hundreds of hair cells within the lab. Karp says nobody had ever produced such numerous hair cells earlier than. He nonetheless remembers wanting on the outcomes whereas visiting his household, together with his father, who wears a listening to support.

“I looked at them and said, ‘I think we have a breakthrough,’” Karp says. “That’s the first and only time I’ve used that phrase.”

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The advance was sufficient for Langer to play matchmaker once more and convey Loose and Lucchino into the fold to begin Frequency Therapeutics.

The founders imagine their strategy—injecting small molecules into the internal ear to show progenitor cells into extra specialised cells—gives benefits over gene therapies, which can depend on extracting a affected person’s cells, programming them in a lab, after which delivering them to the appropriate space.

“Tissues throughout your body contain progenitor cells, so we see a huge range of applications,” Loose says. “We believe this is the future of regenerative medicine.”

Advancing regenerative medication

Frequency’s founders have been thrilled to look at their lab work mature into an impactful drug candidate in medical trials.

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“Some of these people [in the trials] couldn’t hear for 30 years, and for the first time they said they could go into a crowded restaurant and hear what their children were saying,” Langer says. “It’s so meaningful to them. Obviously more needs to be done, but just the fact that you can help a small group of people is really impressive to me.”

Karp believes Frequency’s work will advance researchers’ means to govern progenitor cells and result in new remedies down the road.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if in 10 or 15 years, because of the resources being put into this space and the incredible science being done, 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,” Karp says. “I think we’ll see the same thing for hearing loss.”

“You always hope your work will have an impact, but it can take a long time for that to happen,” Karp says. “It’s been an incredible experience working with the team to bring this forward. There are already people in the trials whose hearing has been dramatically improved and their lives have been changed. That impacts interactions with family and friends. It’s wonderful to be a part of.”

(Reprinted with permission of MIT News; Edited for size)

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