It's a mumble out there

February 13, 2001

Bone-jarring, traumatic noise generated by machinery, gunshots, jet engines, and rock concerts can cause hearing loss - and hearing loss is expensive. Noise induced hearing problems costs the Navy some $69 million dollars a year. The Veterans Administration spends over $300 million a year on disability compensation and treatment for hearing loss- the single largest disability expenditure it has. But now there is momentous news in the world of auditory medicine: a U.S. Patent has just been issued for the invention first reported on two years ago that introduces antioxidants to the inner ear to not only reduce damage to auditory tissues and reduce hearing loss due to noise, but - in some cases - to actually reverse it.

The research that led to the invention - an antioxidant "cocktail" pumped directly to the inner ear cochlear through a microcatheter - is funded by the Office of Naval Research (ONR), and is being conducted at the Naval Hospital Center in San Diego.

"In the ear, it is the auditory receptors in the cochlea that actually hear sound," says Lt. Cmdr. David Street, ONR program manager for the project. "What we've been able to do is repair and re-grow the tiny auditory hair cells inside the cochlea that are injured and damaged when exposed to traumatic noise. Those auditory hair cells are connected to nerve cells, which are connected to the brain. Destroy those cells, and what you get is the sound of silence."

With the microcatheter, the drugs are dispensed at regular intervals for a two-week period directly to the affected area. They can be delivered before, during or after the noise trauma or exposure. Related research indicates that the new method of treatment, now undergoing clinical testing required for FDA approval, may also help treat Meniere's Disease - a balance disorder caused by excessive inner ear fluid.

Office of Naval Research

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