Protecting hearing with nanoengineered drug delivery systems

Background

Hearing loss is the most common disability affecting half a billion people worldwide having a significant economic cost that is rising with the ageing population. Hearing loss not only impacts our ability to communicate with loved ones, but is associated with cognitive decline, social isolation, and depression with strong links to the onset and progression of dementia. The need to develop a therapeutic intervention to treat hearing loss is a high priority and the most effective strategy would be to repair cochlear damage before it becomes a debilitating condition.

The most common cause of hearing loss is called sensorineural hearing loss whereby there is damage to the delicate sensory cells in the inner ear, the hair cells and neurons, or their synaptic connections. This type of inner ear damage can result from noise exposure and ageing, and the consequence is typically firstly noticeable in noisy situations, such as a crowded restaurant. Unfortunately, this condition is likely to worsen as damage progresses over time. Once established, sensorineural hearing loss is a permanent impairment and hearing devices are the only treatment option available. There are currently no approved drug therapies to treat this hearing loss.

Our research

Our research aims to change this scenario. Recent experimental data have shown that delivering nerve survival factors (neurotrophins) to the inner ear can protect and regenerate the auditory neurons and restore synaptic connections following noise exposure. However, a significant challenge to overcome in order to enable clinical translation of this treatment is the development of technology that can deliver neurotrophins safely and effectively to this hard-to-reach area.

We have developed a way to deliver neurotrophins by “loading” them into particles created through nanoengineering. Our current research is determining how well this therapeutic system works in repairing cochlear damage. This research is essential for the clinical translation and will move us a step closer to developing the first therapeutic approach to restore hearing in people with hearing loss.

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Research team

Program leader: A/Prof Andrew Wise,

Team members: Prof Frank Caruso (University of Melbourne), Dr Sherryl Wagstaff (Epworth Hospital), Prof Robert Shepherd, A/Prof James Fallon, A/Prof Rachael Richardson, Prof Stephen O’Leary (University of Melbourne)

Image courtesy of Jay Town and the Herald Sun.

 

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