Restoring hearing loss in veterans

Australian researchers are working to repair hearing loss— a currently untreatable condition that affects military personnel, as well as workers in construction, transport, manufacturing and the live music and entertainment industries.

Researchers at the Bionics Institute of Australia are developing technology to treat hearing loss by delivering drugs (neurotrophins) directly to the damaged cells in the inner ear.

In collaboration with a research team led by Professor Frank Caruso at University of Melbourne, the Bionics Institute has developed a new way to deliver neurotrophins by “loading” them into tiny particles created through nanoengineering. This breakthrough has enabled the delivery of drugs to the hard-to-reach inner ear, at levels that are effective over time and in a safe manner.

The research team has recently developed a manufacturing system to produce these particles consistently and reliably in a way that will accelerate clinical translation.

For military personnel in the field, exposure to damaging sounds can be unavoidable. The hearing impairment that ensues might have significant implications for immediate survival but can also lead  to a life-long hearing disability. For veterans who’ve come home, hearing impairment continues to have a significant personal impact—a reduced ability to communicate with loved ones that can lead to cognitive decline, social isolation and depression.

Hearing loss from noise exposure is the most common injury affecting military personnel. However, noise-induced hearing loss does not differentiate—it impacts those who work in the construction, mining, manufacturing and transport industries, as well as those working in live music and entertainment— industries which exposure to loud noise happens every day.

Such hearing loss is the most common disability in developed countries. It’s also considered permanent and irreversible, as there are currently no treatments.

The United States Department of Defense recognised the potential impact of this research toward quality of life for Service Members and Veterans, with a US $1.1M grant to the Bionics Institute team.

Lead researcher Associate Professor Andrew Wise, says the funding will allow him and his team to progress their study to the next phases.

“This funding will move us a step closer to developing the first therapeutic approach to restore hearing.” said Andrew.

This project will determine how neurotrophins disperse in the inner ear and establish the safety and efficacy profile of the technology. The three year project will provide the key data to be used in the first clinical trial aiming to restore hearing in humans.

This work was supported by the U.S. Army Medical Research Acquisition Activity through the Hearing Restoration Research Program under Award No. W81XWH1810276. Opinions, interpretations, conclusions and recommendations are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by the Department of Defense.

Contacts:
Chrystal Moore, PR and Communications Officer, Bionics Institute: 03 9667 7585

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