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RNID Research Discovers Genetic Link to Hearing Loss Caused by Loud Noise

Royal National Institute for the Deaf (RIND) - Scientists funded by RNID, the national charity for deaf and hard of hearing people, have discovered a genetic link between exposure to loud noise and hearing loss.

The breakthrough could revolutionize ways of treating and preventing noise-induced hearing loss. In the UK, over one million people are at risk from or have already experienced noise related hearing loss.

The findings published online and in the August 2006 issue of the journal Human Mutation identified three genes that influence the risk of developing noise-induced hearing loss, a condition which is irreversible. These genes play a role in recycling potassium in the inner ear a process essential to normal hearing.

Exposure to loud noise has long been known to cause hearing loss and is a leading occupational hazard in many countries. However, it has been less clear why some people are much more susceptible to noise damage than others.

RNID funded this pioneering research at the University of Antwerp. Professor Guy Van Camp, who led the research says: "The project tested the hearing of 1,261 noise-exposed male workers from paper pulp mills and steel factories in Sweden. Genetic testing was then carried out on the 10% most susceptible and 10% most resistant workers. 79% of the people in this study had been exposed to noise for at least 20 years. Significant differences between susceptible and resistant workers were found in the sequence of 3 genes, KCNE1, KCNQ1 and KCNQ4.

He continues: "Further studies on KCNE1 show the version of the gene associated with increased risk to noise causes the encoded ion channel to open more rapidly than the normal version. This could affect the recycling of potassium making people with this version of the gene more sensitive to noise."

Dr Ralph Holme, RNID's Biomedical Research Manager says: "This is a very exciting breakthrough. One million people in the UK alone are at risk of developing noise-induced hearing loss. This discovery could revolutionize the way this common form of hearing loss is prevented and treated in the future."

Taken from www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_35657.html

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