News of Note—Scientists discover a protein key to hearing; Boosting CAR-T signaling to beat cancer

hearing ear
The protein TMC1 helps inner-ear cells detect sounds and convert them into brain signals, scientists have discovered. (Pixabay/tung256)

Harvard team discovers key protein for hearing and balance

After 40 years of research, scientists at Harvard University say they believe they’ve discovered the protein that allows the cells of the inner ear to detect sounds and convert them into brain signals. The protein is called TMC1, and it was initially discovered in 2002. TMC1 forms a pore that’s activated by sound and motion. That pore converts head movements and sound into signals that travel to the brain, they reported in the journal Neuron. They believe the discovery will lead to new treatments that target hearing loss caused by TMC1 dysfunction. (Release)

How understanding CAR-T differences could improve cancer treatment

Engineered immune cells known as CAR-T cells have revolutionized the treatment of some blood cancers, but improving the therapies will require a better understanding of how exactly they mount an anti-cancer attack. Now, scientists at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center believe they’ve uncovered differences in how two of the most commonly used CAR-T designs signal T cells to attack cancer. The CAR-T design known as CD28 showed faster and stronger activation than the 4-1BB cell did, they reported in the journal Science Signaling. But the 4-1BB cells may be longer-lasting. They believe these and other discoveries of differences between the two designs could be used to fine-tune the next generation of CAR-Ts. (Release)

A new gene therapy for vision loss?

Researchers led by the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine have reported promising results from a test of a potential new gene therapy for a rare genetic disorder called autosomal dominant retinitis pigmentosa (adRP). They tested the gene therapy in a dog model of the disease, which damages the photoreceptors of the retina, leading to blindness. The team used a vector that knocked down the mutated gene that causes the disease in dogs, while at the same time adding a gene that makes a beneficial protein. The dogs maintained functional photoreceptors, they reported in the journal PNAS. They hope to start safety studies in people within two years. (Release)

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