Hearing loss affects close to 20 percent of all adults in the country and almost two-thirds of all people over the age of 70. It is a common affliction, and treatment options have made tremendous strides in the last century. And according to a recent study done by researchers at the University of Southern California (USC), there may be a new way to fix the cells that lay deep inside the ear; possibly helping millions of people who suffer from some sort of hearing loss.
The scientists at USC have discovered that they can use a drug to target specific, damaged cells and nerves inside a patient’s ear. While there have been many attempts at using drugs to help cure hearing loss, the USC researchers claim that this time it’s different. The USC researchers have figured out how to deliver the drug into the ear in a way that forces to stay where it is supposed to be and do what it is supposed to do. This seemingly-simple step is a huge accomplishment.
The problem with using drugs inside the ear has always been the fact that fluid is always flowing in the inner ear, so drugs would be swept away and dissolved before they could do their job. To help fix issues within the inner ear, medications or compounds need to target damaged areas directly to promote regeneration. A lead professor at USC, Charles McKenna, claims that their new-found approach addresses that massive issue. It is a large, first step in treating hearing loss in the future.
Thus far, researchers have conducted their experiments only on animal tissue in a petri dish, and have not tested on live, animal or human subjects. But the extreme similarities between cells and functions of the tissues and live subjects give researchers hope that it could also work in living creatures. In fact, the new findings have made way for plans to continue the research into the next phase: using animal subjects.
USC scientists’ new medication and drug-delivery-method targets the snail-like structure in the inner ear (cochlea) where a patient’s most-sensitive cells send sound messages to the brain. More than likely, the medication will come in the form of a gel or liquid, but the full capabilities of its function are still unknown. This new research has the potential to help millions of people lose the hearing aids and regain their hearing.