Researchers are using nanotechnology to develop a world-first drug treatment for hearing loss

  • Bionics Institute researchers are working on a world-first drug treatment for hearing loss which affects half a billion people worldwide.
  • The groundbreaking research uses nanotechnology to deliver drugs into the inner ear that could repair damaged cells in the inner ear.
  • This research shows great promise of helping people living with hearing loss that can have wide ranging impacts such as social isolation, depression, loneliness and cognitive decline associated with dementia.

Why are new treatments needed for hearing loss?

Hearing loss is a very common disability affecting nearly half a billion people worldwide and there are currently no drug treatments available.

Hearing loss usually arises from damage to the delicate sensory cells within the inner ear due to ageing or exposure to noise.

Unfortunately, there is no available treatment to halt the progression of hearing loss or to restore lost hearing function. The only available options are hearing aids and cochlear implants.

Untreated hearing loss is associated with social isolation, depression, loneliness, and cognitive decline.

Research suggests that people with even mild symptoms of hearing loss are twice as likely to develop dementia as those with healthy hearing.

Those with severe hearing loss may be up to five times more likely to develop dementia.

World-first drug treatment for hearing loss

Our researchers are developing a world-first treatment for hearing loss using nanotechnology to deliver a particular drug (called growth factors) to the inner ear.

It is well-established that delivering growth factors into the inner ear has the potential to repair damage to the sensory nerves to treat hearing impairment.

However, the lack of safe and effective technology to deliver these factors into the inner ear has limited its clinical translation.

Groundbreaking technology developed by our researchers ‘loads’ growth factors into tiny particles (nanoparticles) created through nano-engineering.

Once delivered into the inner ear, the drug can act to restore lost connections between the nerve fibres and sensory hair cells.

Next steps for the Bionics Institute research team

Our researchers have discovered that the nanoparticle delivery system can increase the lifespan and improve distribution of growth factors delivered to the inner ear.

This lays the groundwork for further research to establish the ideal formulation of nanoparticles and move towards a clinical trial to restore hearing.

The research team

Bionics Institute researchers: Associate Professor Andrew Wise, Professor James Fallon, Associate Professor Rachael Richardson, Dr Victoria McLeod, Dr Yingjie Hu, Dr Niliksha Gunewardene, Dr Alex Thompson, Dr Jason Marroquin, Patrick Lam, Ella Trang and Mikhail Korneev.

Clinical collaborators: Prof Frank Caruso (University of Melbourne) Dr Sherryl Wagstaff (Epworth Hospital), Dr Tim Adams (CSIRO).