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Breakthrough in Search for Genes that Cause Age-Related Hearing Loss

Scientists funded by RNID, the national charity for deaf and hard of hearing people, have discovered evidence of a gene that contributes to age-related hearing loss. The research, just published in the journal Human Mutation1, could eventually lead to treatments being developed to prevent age-related hearing loss, the charity believes.

Hearing loss is the most common sensory impairment among older people, affecting around 6.5 million people aged over 60 in the UK2,. Hearing loss erodes the quality of life for many, making it difficult for them to communicate with their family and friends, which can lead to increasing isolation. Currently, there is no way of identifying those at risk or preventing the onset of hearing loss.

The RNID-funded project, led by Professor Guy Van Camp at the University of Antwerp, tested the hearing of 645 people aged between 40 and 80. Genetic analysis of a gene called KCNQ4 showed significant differences in its sequence between those with a hearing loss and those without, which was confirmed in a separate study of a further 664 people. The findings indicate that KCNQ4, a gene known to function in the ear, contributes to age-related hearing loss. To confirm this, additional research needs to be carried out to identify the sequence changes that alter the way the gene works.

Dr Ralph Holme, RNIDs Biomedical Research Manager, says: Many people consider hearing loss as an inevitable part of ageing, rather than a potentially preventable condition. This research provides another important piece of the jigsaw in highlighting a gene associated with age-related hearing loss. It offers real hope that treatments will be found and we are optimistic that in the future people will no longer face the prospect of losing their hearing as they age.

RNID urges anyone who is concerned about their hearing to take its five minute, confidential, telephone hearing check on 0845 600 55 55 (local rates apply).

The check is part of RNIDs Breaking the Sound Barrier Campaign, a bold campaign which aims to change attitudes towards hearing loss and hearing aids. The campaign aims to reach out to the 4 million people in the UK3, who are losing their hearing but doing nothing about it.

1 Professor Van Camp headed the research at the University of Antwerp and the findings are published in the journal Human Mutation (Vol.28, August, 2006) at www.wiley.com/humanmutation

2, Davis AC, Hearing in Adults, London: Whurr Publishers Ltd. 1995.

3, Medical Research Council (MRC) Hearing & Communication Group, University of Manchester.

RNID is the leading charitable funder focussed on supporting medical research into deafness, hearing loss and tinnitus in Europe. Last year the organisation invested 1million of voluntary income in scientific research.

About RNID

Each year RNID invites applications for its medical research grant programme which are rigorously peer reviewed by experts around the world and by RNID's medical research advisory panel, consisting of leading UK hearing research scientists and practitioners. Research grants typically last three years and are awarded to the best research proposals anywhere in the world. RNID also supports Ph.D studentships and knowledge transfer awards.
RNID is the national charity changing the world for the UK's 9 million deaf and hard of hearing people.
As a membership charity, we aim to achieve a radically better quality of life for deaf and hard of hearing people. We do this in the following ways:

  • Campaigning and lobbying to change laws and government policies.
  • Challenging negative perceptions around deafness and hearing loss.
  • Providing information and raising awareness of deafness, hearing loss and tinnitus.
  • Training courses and consultancy on deafness and disability.
  • Communication services including sign language interpreters.
  • Training of interpreters, lipspeakers and speech-to-text operators.
  • Seeking lasting change in education for deaf children and young people.
  • Employment programmes to help deaf people into work.
  • Care services for deaf and hard of hearing people with additional needs.
  • Typetalk, the national telephone relay service for deaf and hard of hearing people.
  • Equipment and products for deaf and hard of hearing people.
  • Social, medical and technical research.

For more information about RNID, visit: www.rnid.org.uk or email: information@rnid.org.uk

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