OSU scientists say specific protein may be key to gene therapy f - KPTV - FOX 12

OSU scientists say specific protein may be key to gene therapy for deaf patients

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Scientists at Oregon State University say they've made an important discovery in relation to gene therapy for deaf patients. They believe they've developed a better way to test a specific protein that is essential for hearing.

"There's this long-standing goal of using gene therapy as a means to cure deafness," said Colin Johnson OSU Associate Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics.

Johnson and a team of researchers in the Department of Physics and Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics are determined to find that cure. 

"Hearing loss is pretty common, and yet the genetic basis for a lot of these pieces of hearing loss is not known," said Johnson.

The group spent months working to identify a relationship between genetics and hearing loss. Research that would take them under water to test out their theories on zebra fish.

"You might not think zebra fish, or any fish can hear, but in fact they do. They have the same sort of sensory hair cells that we have and they're right on the surface of the fish, so they're accessible," said Johnson. "We thought, let's try zebra fish as a model to understand hearing and deafness."

The team focused their research on a specific protein called Otoferlin. It's found in the inner ear.

"There's a lot of interest in this particular gene because it seems to be at the epicenter of the focus of general hearing loss. It seems to be a bit of a one trick pony in that it exclusively controls hearing and balance," said Johnson.

The Otoferlin protein is considered really big and therefore difficult to study. But, Johnson said doctoral biochemistry student Nicole Hams, former biochemistry doctoral student Murugesh Padmanaryana and biophysicist Weihong Qiu figured out a new way to test a shortened version of it.

A test, that shows this condensed form can also function in the encoding of sound and can be used for gene therapy, according to Johnson.

"We're really interested in immediately applying our results to at least a mouse model, if not humans. We're actually looking for medical doctors to hook up with us and apply our results immediately," Johnson. said.

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