A team of researchers have identified a gene associated with age-related hearing loss that could help identify people for early treatment as well as lead to a possible prevention.
The findings, in the animal study, showed that Slc4a10 gene, when mutated, might play a role in age-related hearing problems.
"As we get older, we have an increased risk of developing many conditions, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hearing loss and dementia," said Lindsay Wilson from the Medical Research Council (MRC) Harwell — an international research centre for mouse genetics in Britain.
"The genes that we carry can influence this, but it is not clear which one does, or how. This study increases our understanding of the genes related to ageing and ill-health and might ultimately help us identify new treatments," Wilson added.
For the study, the team introduced new mutations at random positions in genes of mice before they were born, and then monitored their health as they matured.
If an age-related condition developed, the researchers investigated which particular gene in that mouse had been mutated.
One gene identified in this way was Slc4a10, already known to be associated with eye function, but this new study linked defective Slc4a10 to age-related hearing loss for the first time.
"The study gives a better understanding of which genes in humans are involved in age-related conditions, and how changes in those genes could influence the conditions. This is a first and vital step in developing new therapies," said lead researcher Paul Potter of MRC Harwell.
Identifying this gene and others related to late-onset conditions in mice could now prompt investigation of the same genes in humans to ask if naturally-occurring mutations in them cause similar effects, the researchers said.
The study, published in Nature Communications, may also help researchers develop advance screening programmes to identify the risk that developes age-related conditions many years before symptoms actually appear.