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The anti-malarial drug artemisinin can help in mitigating hearing loss, caused by heredity and genetic disorders, a study has found. The study was conducted by researchers from Case Western Reserve University in the US on zebrafish.

They found that the drug can help sensory cells of the inner ear recognise and transport an essential protein to the specialised membrane using established pathways within the cell, which will help improve and restore hearing.

“We knew mutant protein largely fails to reach the cell membrane, except patients with this mutation are born hearing. This suggested to us that, somehow, at least a fraction of the mutant protein must get to cell membranes in the inner ear,” said Kumar N Alagramam from Case Western Reserve University.

“If we can understand how the human clarin1 mutant protein is transported to the membrane, then we can exploit that mechanism therapeutically,” Alagramam said.

The study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), found that artemisinin reinstates cell function of the inner ear — and thus hearing and balance — in genetically engineered zebrafish that have human versions of the essential hearing protein.

“Using these ‘humanized’ fish models, we were able to study the function of normal clarin1 and, more importantly, the functional consequences of its mutant counterpart,” said Alagramam.

“Our report highlights the potential of artemisinin to mitigate both hearing and vision loss caused by clarin1 mutations. This could be a re-purposable drug, with a safe profile, to treat Usher syndrome patients,” he added.

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