The annual California Academy of Audiology convention was held in Berkeley this year. We had speakers on a variety of topics from balance assessment to hearing aids to business management. Two of the speakers presented information on topics that patients have been asking me about during our appointments – hair cell regeneration and implantable hearing aids.
Cochlear Gene Therapy
We’ve heard tantalizing information in the news about the possibility of gene therapy curing the incurable diseases of our times. Larry Lustig, M.D. of UCSF spoke about the latest work in his field of cochlear gene therapy. Dr. Lustig is working on using gene therapy to grow hair cells in the cochlea.
The destruction or dysfunction of cochlear hair cells is a common cause of hearing loss due to noise exposure, exposure to ototoxic medications and for genetic reasons. Dr. Lustig and colleagues have been successful in stimu- lating hair cell growth in mice who would otherwise have been born without hair cells.
The work is very exciting and shows promise but at this time is limited to experiments in mice. However, Dr. Lustig hinted that a major pharmaceutical manufacturer is looking to start human tria ls in cochlear gene therapy. Stay tuned for more information.
Esteem – the totally implantable hearing aid
Dr. Michael Murray is the San Francisco Bay Area surgeon working with the Esteem implantable hearing aid. This is a totally implantable device for people with moderate to severe sensorineural hearing loss. The device was FDA approved in 2010 and 476 earshave been implanted since that time.
On the positive side, there is no daily maintenance with the aid, no feedback issues and no irritating sensation of something in the ear. On the negative side, a minor surgery is needed for a battery change every 5-8 years, the device can be taken out but then the bones in the middle ear need to be reconnected and finally the cost. Typically this is an out of pocket expense and it is running at $30,000+ per ear.
The data Dr. Murray presented showed that many of the subjects were happy with their implants. However, as an audiologist I wasn’t terribly impressed by the improvement in hearing consid- ering the time and expense involved. I think this is an interesting addition to the market, but I’m hopeful for improve- ments down the road.
We learned about plenty of other intersteding topics. Ask our audiologists about what’s new.