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Genetic Test Could Catch Deafness Early and Accurately

Gabe Romain
Betterhumans Staff
Friday, September 12, 2003, 3:51:36 PM CT

A genetic screening test has been developed to catch severe hearing loss in children earlier and more accurately.

Melbourne researchers at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute say that by examining a DNA sample from blood or saliva, five genes most commonly associated with hearing loss can be identified.

They are currently looking at whether two of five genetic mutations known to cause most cases of severe hearing loss can also cause mild hearing loss.

Their test could pinpoint genes that cause hearing loss while differentiating between temporary and permanent hearing loss.

Hearing loss

Hearing loss is a very common birth defect affecting about two to three out of every 1,000 babies born. For many of these children, the cause of the loss is unknown.

Because language and communication abilities develop so rapidly during the first three years of life, undetected hearing loss can interfere with a child's speech, language and communication with others.

At the moment, about two or three percent of young children fail hearing tests, but "you don't know whether they are deaf, or they had gooey ears or an infection," Henrik Dahl, an associate professor at Murdoch, told The Age.

Early screening crucial

The goal of early screening, diagnosis and treatment is to help children with hearing loss develop the language and academic skills necessary to compete with their peers.

"The longer you wait, the worse their speech and language is going to be," says Dahl.

The genetic test can help determine the specific cause and degree of hearing loss so that an appropriate treatment can be worked out.

Trials of the genetic test are currently being conducted on 800 children.



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