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Study includes launch of new web-based research tool, hearDigits, to accurately detect possible hearing loss among participants

It is estimated that by 2050 over 900 million people will have disabling hearing loss. There are various known causes for hearing loss resulting from complications at birth, certain infectious diseases, chronic ear infections, the use of particular drugs, exposure to excessive noise, and ageing (WHO, 2018). A new research study by 23andMe aims to investigate and uncover more knowledge regarding both the genetic and environmental causes of hearing loss.

The study will include the launch of the innovative hearDigits research tool from the hearX Group, the leader in disruptive mobile technologies in the detection and prevention of hearing loss. hearDigits is a web-based hearing test that allows study participants, with any set of earphones or headphones, to accurately detect whether or not they have a possible hearing loss – in under 3 minutes.

23andMe has more than a decade of genetics research expertise with an engaged cohort of 23andMe customers, more than 80% of whom elect to participate in research. Founded in 2006, the mission of the company is to help people access, understand and benefit from the human genome. As part of its mission, 23andMe gives customers the opportunity to participate in voluntary research that can help advance health discoveries. To date, 23andMe has published more than 120 peer-reviewed studies through its research program working with top academic and industry collaborators. This is yet another example of a study that has the potential to enhance our collective understanding of how genetics impact medical conditions, in this case hearing loss.

The customization of the hearDigits widget for this study enables 23andMe customers to participate in research to help produce insights into possible correlations between genetics and congenital hearing loss. The widget, which will be integrated into 23andMe’s opt-in research platform, enables and encourages users to participate in a longitudinal study that tests their hearing every 6 months for a period of five years. Test results will measure changes of hearing ability over time.

The hearDigits test will be paired with a questionnaire assessing 23andMe participants’ self-reported hearing status and whether they are experiencing any hearing difficulty, particularly as they age. Results from both the hearDigits test and questionnaire will be used in combination with 23andMe’s extensive genetic databases to study genetic factors that contribute to age-related hearing loss.

“With this innovative tool, we are excited to expand our capabilities for phenotypic data collection, empowering research on hearing changes over time,” said Stella Aslibekyan, PhD, a genetic epidemiologist on the 23andMe research team.

The genetic studies will be spearheaded by Anne Giersch, PhD, assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and a member of the department of pathology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “These studies will help to understand the genetics behind age-related hearing loss,” said Giersch.

“This is an exciting collaboration for both 23andMe and the hearX Group as this research and insight into better understanding the causes of hearing loss can assist in equipping people around the world with better knowledge about the risks they potentially carry for hearing loss and in turn, the preventative measures they can take to avoid them,” said Nic Klopper, Chief Executive Officer, hearX Group.

“The collaboration with 23andMe and hearX using hearDigits will be the first intensive, large-scale longitudinal study of speech hearing in noise, increasingly recognized as the key to understanding distinctive problems experienced by humans in their daily communication,” said David Moore, Professor and Director of the Communication Sciences Research Center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, and co-lead researcher on the study.

Interested participants can learn more by contacting info@hearxgroup.com