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New research identifies hearing loss genes

New research identifies hearing loss genes
23rd August 2016

A new screening programme has identified a number of genes involved in age-related conditions, including hearing loss.

The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, also found the genes responsible for retinal degeneration and osteoarthritis and could help improve treatment for these conditions that often affect the elderly.

Getting older is a risk factor for a wide range of conditions, including diabetes, dementia, and even heart disease. However, a person's genes can also influence how susceptible they are to certain health problems.

The animal study could lead to further research into how these genes influence human conditions, and screening programmes could be developed off the back of this to estimate the risk of developing age-related health problems years before any symptoms appear.

Researchers at the Medical Research Council (MRC) Harwell introduced new mutations at random positions in the genes of mice before they were born. They then monitored their health as they grew older and, if an age-related condition developed, the team identified which gene had mutated.

One of the genes they found - called Slc4a10 - had already been linked with healthy functioning eyes. However, the new research is the first to link the gene to age-related hearing loss for the first time.

Lead researcher, Dr Paul Potter of MRC Harwell, said: "Our study is an important springboard for a better understanding of which genes in humans are involved in age-related conditions, and how changes in those genes influence this. This is a first and vital step in developing new therapies."

Identifying which genes are linked to age-related conditions could lead to further research to see whether the same genes have a similar impact on humans. This could mean that screening programmes could be conducted to look at genes and determine a person's risk of developing a specific condition.

Dr Lindsay Wilson, programme manager for genetics and genomics at the MRC, said: "As we get older, we have an increased risk of developing many conditions, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hearing loss and dementia."

She said genes can influence this, but it is hard to know which do, or how they do it.

Dr Wilson explained that the research increases understanding of the genes related to ageing and ill-health and could ultimately help to identify new treatments.