Published On: Fri, Jul 14th, 2017

Gene Therapy and LEDs Help Boost Effectiveness of Cochlear Implants

Researchers are using optogenetics to help improve cochlear implants, which work through nerve stimulation. The implants work, but the sound is often muffled and distorted. Implant technology can only distinguish a dozen sounds, while the human ear can distinguish 2,000 sound frequencies.

Optogenetics is being studied to find new wants for implants to work. Tobias Moser of the University Medical Center Gottingen in Germany and his team are working on adding extra channels to implants to improve their effectiveness.

Moser and his team have created implants with 100 channels, according to a post on New Scientist. The team is experimenting with micro-LEDs to help engage nerves that are sensitive to light. The team hopes that the use of micro LEDs will allow the team to continue offering more channels to cochlear implants.

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photo/ Michael Jarmoluk via pixabay.com

Moser’s team is using gene therapy on rats that have helped auditory nerves activate when exposed to light, allowing for the mice to hear channels they wouldn’t otherwise be able to hear.

The approach requires just four weeks of gene therapy prior to the cochlear implant being implanted. The team is using the adeno-associated virus, a harmless virus that alters the rat’s auditory nerves when they’re exposed to light.

He and his team are years away from using the technology on humans.

Recent studies show that older brain don’t hear similar sounds, making auditory implants more difficult to work with 100% efficiency. The study found that the brain’s ability to distinguish sounds slows as a person ages and declines.

Research conducted on mice indicates the possibility of reversing the decline in sound comprehension. The research, drawn off of Jay Blundon’s research at St, Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, found that adenosine, a chemical found in the brain, begins to increase as mice age. The chemical is located in the thalamus, an area of the brain that is responsible for sensory processing.

The research has led to the understanding that increased levels of adenosine activates different pathways in the brain that impairs learning in the auditory cortex. The findings show that mice with high levels of adenosine can’t discriminate between two similar sounds.

Drugs and genetics tools are being developed to lower adenosine in the brain to help older brains be able to distinguish sounds as well as younger brains. The team found that blocking adenosine helped increase the number of neurons in the auditory cortex that are responsive to sounds.

The team is now researching the effectiveness of blocking adenosine to improve auditory plasticity to help train neurons to take over damage neurons, but warns that the research is still in the initial stages.

Author: Jacob Maslow

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