Electronic Records Help Link Genes to Age-Related Hearing Loss

UCSF-Kaiser Collaboration Studied More Than 6,000 Cases of Hearing Impairment

By Nicholas Weiler

A study of patient electronic medical records and genome sequences from adults with age-related hearing impairment by researchers at UC San Francisco and Kaiser Permanente Northern California, identified two genetic variations linked to the hearing disorder.

The research—led by Thomas Hoffmann, PhD, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics and member of the Institute for Human Genetics at UCSF—was published Oct. 20, 2016, in PLOS Genetics.

“This is one of the first studies that has found and replicated genes linked with age-related hearing impairment,” Hoffmann says. “And it provides some of the best evidence to date that age-related hearing loss may share a common biological basis with other forms of hearing impairment.”

Age-Related Hearing Impairment is Common Condition

Age-related hearing impairment (ARHI) is a common condition, affecting one quarter of individuals aged 65, and half of individuals aged 80 and older. While hearing aids and other technologies offer treatments, scientists hope that a better understanding of the underlying genetics of the disorder may one day yield a cure.

To find genetic variations linked to ARHI, the scientists conducted a genome-wide association study using 6,527 age-related hearing impairment cases and 45,882 controls among white participants in the Genetic Epidemiology Research on Adult Health and Aging (GERA) cohort, a collaboration between UCSF and the Kaiser Permanente Research Program on Genes, Environment, and Health (RPGEH).

“Our collaboration with Kaiser is incredibly powerful,” Hoffmann said. “They have a very long history of electronic health records on all of their patients in the system, so as a researcher you have this rich set of information that you can look at to understand the factors that drive health and disease.”

The researchers discovered two genome variants that contribute to the disorder: a novel variation near the ISG20 gene, and a second variant within TRIOBP, a gene previously associated with another type of hearing loss.

To verify their findings, the scientists replicated the experiment in Latino, East Asian, and African-American cohorts within GERA and in an independent cohort of individuals from the UK Biobank. They also looked at genes known to play a role in hearing loss and identified two additional genetic variations linked to ARHI.  

Novel Insights Into Genetic Factors

This study provides novel insights into the genetic factors involved in ARHI. In particular, the discovery of the two additional variations in known hearing loss genes suggests that these may be regions of the genome to focus on in future studies of ARHI. The findings also highlight the utility of large cohorts with matched genomic data and electronic health records for revealing the underlying genetic basis of ARHI and other disorders.

“This has been a long process,” Hoffmann says of the project to collect genomic data and link it with GERA health records. “It’s really nice to see at the end that all the collaborative work that we’ve done is producing interesting results that help advance the field.”

Additional authors on the paper include Bronya J. Keats, PhD, of Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center; Noriko Yoshikawa, MD, of Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, Oakland; Catherine Schaefer, PhD, of Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research, Oakland; Neil Risch, PhD, who is Lamond Family Foundation Distinguished Professor in Human Genetics, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics, and director of the Institute for Human Genetics at UCSF and an adjunct investigator at the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research; and Lawrence R. Lustig, MD, of Columbia University Medical Center.

Funders of the research include the NIDCD (grant K01 DC013300), the National Institute on Aging, National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institutes of Health Common Fund (RC2 AG036607), the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Wayne and Gladys Valley Foundation, the Ellison Medical Foundation, and Kaiser Permanente National and Regional Community Benefit Programs. The authors have declared no competing financial interests.

UC San Francisco (UCSF) is a leading university dedicated to promoting health worldwide through advanced biomedical research, graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care. It includes top-ranked graduate schools of dentistry, medicine, nursing and pharmacy; a graduate division with nationally renowned programs in basic, biomedical, translational and population sciences; and a preeminent biomedical research enterprise. It also includes UCSF Health, which comprises top-ranked hospitals, UCSF Medical Center and UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals in San Francisco and Oakland – and other partner and affiliated hospitals and healthcare providers throughout the Bay Area.

The Kaiser Permanente Division of Research conducts, publishes and disseminates epidemiologic and health services research to improve the health and medical care of Kaiser Permanente members and society at large. It seeks to understand the determinants of illness and well-being, and to improve the quality and cost-effectiveness of health care. Currently, DOR’s 550-plus staff is working on more than 350 epidemiological and health services research projects. For more information, visit www.dor.kaiser.org or follow us @KPDOR.