DENVER - A local man is a making medical history.
Rob Gerk is the first person in the world to receive gene therapy to restore his hearing.
"It was very interesting," Gerk said."I'm very glad I could be a part of the process."
Gerk returned home after his surgery in October at the University of Kansas Hospital.
His doctor, Dr. Hinrich Staecker, researched combining genes and viruses for treatment for nearly two decades.
"We're able to build specially modified viruses that are not capable of causing disease," Dr. Staecker said. "We can use them to shuttle genetic material into the inner ear."
The goal is to regenerate cells that could restore hearing by triggering the growth of sensory receptors.
"It's amazing that technology has gotten to where we are now," Gerk said. "I remember grade school, I'd be reading about gene therapy but I didn't think I would be able to take part in it."
Gerk had spinal meningitis when he was 16 months old and lost most of his hearing. Using hearing aids and with intense speech therapy, Gerk says he has learned to fit in well with the hearing community. He is currently in the real estate business.
"I've always wanted to do better," Gerk said. "Not be limited by my abilities."
It won't be clear if the surgery was a total success until Gerk's ear fully hears sometime in December and Kansas doctors run additional tests.
Right now, he says, the differences are subtle.
"One change I noticed, I balance a lot better than before," he said.
Study participants must have severe hearing loss resulting from noise, medications or some diseases. The study can't help people who were born with hearing loss.
While the potential is huge, if the surgery is unsuccessful, participants can lose hearing all together.
For more information on the study, go to https://pioneersresearch.org/node/182
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