A Greek behind the revolutionary cure for deafness
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A Greek behind the revolutionary cure for deafness

Greek scientists are known to leave their mark when they step outside the country’s borders. In most of the world’s largest hospitals, for example, whether in the field or on research teams, there is almost always a Greek. So it is in the case of the revolutionary research into the cure for deafness.

Dr. Christos Kiratsous, originally from Kozani, joined Regeneron Research in 2011 and has now been promoted to vice president. He leads the development of next-generation genetic therapeutic platforms and the infectious disease therapeutic focus area.

In fact, for two families from England, this revolutionary therapy has been life-changing. Their infants who had been born without the ability to hear began to respond to sound stimuli – both are participating in a Regeneron gene therapy trial, marking a new era in the treatment of deafness.

Opal Sadie was born unable to hear anything due to an auditory neuropathy that prevented the transfer of nerve impulses from the inner ear to the brain. This is caused by a defective gene.

Since then, the hearing ability has been almost completely restored and the infant is able to hear almost perfectly.

“The clinical trials are really impressive because you see results very quickly. You have a baby who at first can’t hear anything and within a few weeks he starts to understand his environment,” Dr. Kyracous says in an interview and adds: “We develop too many drugs whose effect we don’t know for many years. It is very difficult for a scientist, especially people working in laboratories, to understand what the real effect of the treatment is so quickly. We are lucky because the effect now is immediate. Within a few weeks you see a spectacular progress in a baby, which is something really impressive. Most children, in most parts of the world, when they are born they go through a hearing test – these are the children who fail the test from the first few days after they are born. The particular mutation that we are targeting with gene therapy is in a gene called otoferlin. And when you have a mutation in that particular gene, the anatomy of the ear is exactly the same as it is in all hearing individuals. So all the mechanisms, all the cells inside the ear are there. What’s missing is the specific protein, otoferlin, that the body needs to transmit the signal from the ear to the brain.”

“It’s touching to talk to parents and understand their daily experience with their children – it gives hope now to many more parents of children with the same disease, and with these results they are more optimistic that with these drugs their children will be able to hear,” he adds.
But this research is just the beginning. As he says, “Now we have to see how old we can correct hearing with otoferlin gene therapy. But I think from now on it is our duty to test in other genetic diseases what we have learned from the trials. And hopefully we’ll get similarly impressive results in other mutations. “There are many genetic diseases that cause deafness, but there are also many genetic diseases that cause blindness or problems in the muscles or nervous system.”

The Greek scientist also referred to the importance of investing in new technologies:” My team in the lab has been working on how to use viruses and genetic therapies for many years. It is not something we thought of a few months ago and tested in clinical trials. So, I think that shows how important it is to invest in the long term in both technologies and treatments. Regeneron is a very good example of companies investing in research and technology. That’s why, I think, we’re seeing these results in clinical trials.”
Christos Kyratsous is Senior Vice President of Research at Regeneron Pharmaceuticals. He is in charge of two research groups, the first of which is dedicated to the discovery and development of monoclonal antibodies for infectious diseases and the second to the development of novel viral vectors for genetic therapies.