Research Highlights / Full Story

Researchers belive there is a strong genetic component to age-related hearing loss that could help decode this complex disorder.

Age-related hearing loss, presbycusis, is a major public health problem, affecting one-third of the population over age 65. RIT researchers have been studying the disorder for nearly 20 years. More recently, Dr. Dina Newman, assistant professor in the College of Science, has been investigating the role genetics plays in age-related hearing loss.

Newman and her research team are hoping to find molecular mechanisms that can help explain why and how people experience hearing loss. "If we can determine which people are prone to the disorder, we will be able to target them for different types of preventative strategies," says Newman.

In a study sponsored by the National Institute on Aging, a division of National Institutes of Health, Newman has been studying the mitochondrial genome. Preliminary results show that certain people who have similar mitochondrial genomes are protected from age-related hearing loss. Newman is hopeful that these findings could lead to preventative treatments.

The connexin genes have also been under examination to determine if a change in one of these genes could cause accelerated hearing loss over a lifetime. While so far it appears there is no relation, Newman explains it is an important confirmation, as the connexin genes are known to be the main cause of congenital deafness.

Recently, Newman and her research team have partnered with the House Ear Institute in Los Angeles, California, to further examine the relationship of GRM7, a glutamate receptor, in age-related hearing loss.