How Gene Therapy is Revolutionizing Hearing Loss Restoration

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Our sense of hearing relies upon many factors within the ear, but none so much as the cochlea hair cells. Ears need inner and outer hair cells to create the electromotile responses needed to collect information from incoming sound to enable us to hear.  Over time, age—mostly for those older than 60—and noise damage cause outer hair cell functioning to deteriorate. Specifically, the number of healthy outer hair cells that push against the tectoral membrane becomes smaller and smaller. It becomes more difficult to hear certain sounds or in certain situations.

Sounds, especially loud ones, produce pressure waves upon inner ear hair cells. A study by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders says nearly 26 million Americans suffer from hearing loss attributed to high levels of noise exposure. In the UK, more than 10 million people suffer from hearing impairment or deafness. Where age doesn’t play a factor, noise-induced hearing loss makes up a significant portion of the rest of the 10 million people.

With the development of gene therapy, I believe many individuals who lose hearing due to the damage or loss of hair cells might regain some hair cell functioning and reduce their hearing loss.

What is gene therapy?

Oxford University defines gene therapy as “the transplantation of normal genes into cells in place of missing or defective ones in order to correct genetic disorders.” Yet, this term encompasses a large scope. Stanford School of Medicine gives a bit more clarity to gene therapy as it relates to hearing loss: a focus on re-establishment of the three genes that cause hearing loss. Stem cell gene therapy treatments, specifically through the forced development of ATOH1, might supplement these three genes, however.

Other studies have shown that aiming at the supporting cells around the hair cells will also result in the restoration and help to prevent hearing loss. The gene therapy study report by Lisa L. Cunningham says that supporting cells “must survive in order to transduce sound.” In her study of heat shock proteins (HSPs), she found that HSP70 resisted hearing loss and hair cell loss. By regenerating the HSP70 through gene therapy, hair cells could have a slower rate of deterioration resulting in reduced hearing loss.

Does gene therapy restore hearing loss?

Gene therapy has shown positive results in field testing. Columbia University Medical Center conducted a study using mice with genetic mutations to their hearing. Development of cells and implementation of genetically developed cells in the mice resulted in the regeneration of a significant amount of hair cells. Mice share a similar genetic makeup with humans, so many audiologists and scientists predict that this might be the breakthrough genetic science needs to boost technology for preventing hearing loss.

The case of Robb Gerk offers additional evidence of gene therapy’s worth. Treated by Hinrich Staecker, Robb Gerk underwent gene therapy for a hearing loss condition caused by spinal meningitis. Gerk is the first person to undergo this gene therapy.

The process uses non-harmful viruses to stimulate hair cells in the ear. Definitive results aren’t available yet, but preliminary findings lean to the positive as Gerk reports better balance—a function fundamentally controlled by the hearing nerve—along with other subtle improvements.

 

Joan McKechnie is a UK-based audiologist who develops hearing aids for HearingDirect.com. She’s registered with the United Kingdom’s Health Care Professions Council. joan@hearingdirect.com.

 

More Talk, Less Tech

As summer winds down, help your clients make the most out of these last few weeks of quality family time by sharing these infographics. They focus on reducing screen time and protecting hearing when they do indulge.

Vacation travel, barbecues, family excursions . . . summer is full of prime communication opportunities for families.

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Summer leisure time may mean increased tech consumption. Help clients and families protect their hearing by following three simple safety tips when using tech devices with ear buds or headphones.

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Four Ways to Grow Your Audiology Practice

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As an audiologist, you’re in the business of helping people, but you still need enough business to keep your practice up and running. If you need to grow your practice and increase your patient list, these four tips might help.

Marketing

When people need to hire a professional for their services, they turn to the Internet. You need to create an Internet presence that draws potential clients to your website. Start by generating professional profiles or pages on popular social media platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or YouTube. Create a blog. Then update these formats on a regular basis. Don’t forget to use common SEO practices to make your website one of the first seen when someone starts looking for an audiology practice.

Develop a marketing strategy to get the word out about your practice. Don’t limit it to just the Internet. Consider using “old-fashioned” methods, such as advertising and direct mail. Find the best way to reach potential clients and increase business.

Promotions

Although marketing makes up a huge part of any business growth plan, you need to keep the end goal in mind: increasing conversions. You need to get more people through the doors. Planning special events or promotions works as an effective way to get more people to call or stop by for appointments. Once you get them to reach out to you, you can start connecting and building customer loyalty. Try a promotion for current patients who refer new clients. This strategy encourages your clients to make personal recommendations about your practice.


SLP Jessie Ginsburg offers her take on growing a private practice in our August issue!


Branding

You need to get your business to stand out in the mind of your potential patients. Use bold statements, logos and a consistent design for your practice to create a brand people recognize and remember when they need your services. Think about appealing colors to use for your logo, products, posters and more. Most important, find ways to stand out from your competitors. Do research to determine what your competition does in order to figure out ways to differentiate your practice.

Staff Training

People might visit your practice to check it out, so you need to create a comfortable atmosphere to make them want to come back. Training your staff in customer relations goes a long way to generate such an atmosphere. Create an employee training program and implement practice policies to teach employees what you expect from them each time someone walks in the door. Create a written job description for each employee, if you haven’t done so already, so you know that everyone’s on the same page about what you expect.

As you try various methods to help grow your practice, finding the best methods to locate and bring in clients takes trial and error. Start with these basic tips, but don’t be afraid to think outside of the box as you develop your practice and build your clientele.

 

Heather Jensen, AuD, CCC-A, is an audiologist and clinical assistant professor for Utah State University. She previously owned a private practice.

Swimmer With Cochlear Implants Wins ESPY Award

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Becca Meyers, a world-record-holding and multiple medal-winning paralympic swimmer from Baltimore, recently won the ESPY Award for Best Female Athlete with a Disability. Meyers was born with Usher Syndrome, which caused her deafness and will eventually make her go blind. She’s worn cochlear implants her entire life. According to the story in the Baltimore Sun, she heard the news of her win in Glasgow, Scotland while competing at the International Paralympic Committee World Championships. Her ESPY win adds to an already stellar week–the day before the announcement she broke her own world record in the 200-meter IM by taking two seconds of her previous record time.

Create a Career Roadmap Using 3 Key Questions

New grads deciding on career path

Well, it’s that time of year. Students everywhere recently celebrated graduation, breathed a huge sigh of relief about finishing theses, then partied after passing comps and licensure exams. Whew! All done. Right?

Nope! Your journey as a new audiologist or speech-language pathologist begins now. How thrilling is that? You chose a field with so much opportunity. However, many grads choose the population and setting where they want to work and consider career planning done. But there’s more …

To create your career roadmap, think about these three questions:

  1. Where do you want to go? Not just: “Where do I want to go right now?” Think about where you see yourself in five or 10 years. What do you want to do down the road? Do you want to grow in a particular setting, or do you see yourself building experience then moving to a different setting? For example, you might choose to work in an outpatient private clinic to gain experience and understand more about business as a springboard to opening your own private practice.
  1. What tools do you already possess and what do you need to help build future skills? Think about this in terms of your clinical skills as well as your professional skills. Are there areas in which you’d like to grow clinically or eventually specialize? If so, how will you obtain that experience? Think about what continuing education courses you can take. Look objectively at your communication skills, emotional intelligence, leadership skills and organizational abilities, to name a few. Which areas are your strengths? Where do you need to grow? If you have trouble evaluating yourself in this way, ask someone you trust to provide you with some perspective.
  1. Who can help? Find people to mentor and guide you. Maybe choose a colleague or two in your workplace whom you admire professionally. Pick their brains about how they developed their career paths. Don’t be afraid to ask people for advice. Most experienced clinicians want to share experiences and guide new colleagues. We were once were you were—just a little longer ago! In addition, your state association and ASHA offer great avenues for connecting with others in similar settings. Get involved!

During this time, stay flexible. Things change and that’s OK. Creating a career roadmap provides a framework, but you might put the pieces together in a different order once you start building. So congratulations to you on your graduation—relish this exciting time in your life and the start of a new adventure. Enjoy the ride!

 

Suzanne Bonifert, MS, CCC-SLP, manages rehabilitation services at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Ft. Worth, Texas. She frequently mentors and helps guide new clinicians. suzanne.bonifert@cookchildrens.org