Researchers have come up with a new solution that could potentially cure hearing loss by repairing damaged cells and nerves inside the ear, a “novel” technique that works by ensuring liquid drugs stay in the inner ear and don’t get swept away.
As explained in a news release from the University of Southern California published in EurekAlert, USC and Harvard researchers devised a novel drug delivery technique that targets the cochlea, which is the inner ear structure that is responsible for delivering sound to the brain. As people age, or are exposed constantly to loud noises from machinery, concerts, and other sources, cells, neurons, and synapses that help the cochlea transmit sound begin breaking down, resulting in some form of hearing loss.
According to Tech Times, hearing loss is a condition that affects 48 million people in the U.S., or about 20 percent of Americans, including about one-third of people aged 65 and older. Aside from older individuals, hearing loss also affects children and teenagers, as about 15 percent of people aged 6- to 19-years-old suffer from the condition in one way or another.
The researchers created a molecule that blends 7,8-dihydroxyflavone, a metabolite capable of simulating a protein that helps in the nervous system’s development, and bisphosphonate, which helps improve bone density. Based on preliminary tests on mouse ear tissue, neurons responded positively to the blended molecule, as synapses regenerated and cells and neurons used in the hearing process consequently were repaired.
Explaining how the novel solution might be a potential cure for hearing loss, study co-author Charles E. McKenna, a chemistry professor at USC, said in a statement that it serves as a way for drugs to be delivered into the inner ear in such a way that they “stay put” and don’t get swept away by inner ear fluid.
“Our new approach addresses that problem. This is a first for hearing loss and the ear. It’s also important because it may be adaptable for other drugs that need to be applied within the inner ear.”
Although the study showed promise, the researchers stressed that there are some limitations, as their study is merely a “proof of principle” and not a guaranteed cure for hearing loss. Furthermore, the researchers conducted their experiments on mouse tissues in a petri dish, but not yet on living creatures. But as the USC news release noted, McKenna and his colleagues are confident in their work, as it shows that there is “strong preliminary evidence” of the solution working in living animals or humans. The team plans to conduct further research, with the next phase of the study focusing on living animals suffering from hearing loss.