Scientists have identified a number of genes that could hold the key to curing age-related deafness. Experts at King’s College London and University College London found 44 strands of DNA that are linked to hearing loss.
They analysed the genetic data from 25,000 volunteers who have signed up to be part of the UK Biobank. It is thought that the breakthrough could lead to better treatments for the hard of hearing in the future.
It is believed that around 40 per cent of Brits suffer some kind of hearing loss by the time they’re 65, which has a significant impact on their quality of life. As well as contributing to social isolation and disability, age-related deafness has also been found to be a risk factor for dementia.
Surprisingly, little is known about the causes of hearing loss, despite it affecting so many people. At present, the only real options being offered to sufferers are hearing aids and these are often not worn once they’ve been fitted.
The volunteers in this latest study were asked to fill out a questionnaire to identify hearing issues and whether or not they wore a hearing aid. After analysing the genetic data of the participants, scientists discovered that 44 per cent of genes were linked to deafness. 30 of the genes had not been associated with hearing loss in the past.
Professor Frances Williams, from the department of twin research and genetic epidemiology at King's, said: “We now know that very many genes are involved in the loss of hearing as we age. This study has identified a few genes that we already know cause deafness in children, but it has also revealed lots of additional novel genes which point to new biological pathways in hearing.”
Age-related hearing loss, otherwise known as presbycusis, is the largest single cause of deafness in the world. In most cases, it starts at around the age of 40, when a small degradation begins, but this cumulates over time to become noticeable.