Treating hearing loss therapeutically with drugs is an increasing area of research, though currently it seems a long way off. Pharmaceutical approaches are being studied without any breakthrough success thus far.
One such effort is an experimental drug known as FX-322, which is attempting to harness stem cell technology to regrow stereocilia. These are the tiny hair cells that are the crucial part of the cochlea—they are actually the transition point of sound waves becoming electrical impulses the brain recognizes as sound.
Stereocilia can be damaged in any number of ways—due to excessive-volume events, the effects of diabetes and other cardiovascular problems, and simple aging—and once gone they do not grow back. This represents one of the most common drivers of hearing loss.
Creating a way to regrow them would be a true medical breakthrough.
Frequency Therapeutics, a company in Massachusetts, is developing FX-322 and currently conducting preliminary studies. So far the results have not provided the hoped-for success. Testing for the drug is mostly at the Phase 1 level, with some preliminary Phase 2A having taken place.
This shouldn’t be too surprising, since the inner ear is a complex and tiny part of the human body. The technological challenges to creating drug therapies for the inner and middle ear are profound.
Luckily, the tech behind hearing aids is, at this point, tried and true. The complexity and adaptability of hearing aids have exploded over the last decade as advancements in computing power and wireless protocols have leaped forward.
For the foreseeable future, hearing aids will continue to be the best—in many cases the only—treatment for hearing loss.