Although one in six Australians experience hearing loss, there is no drug treatment currently available. This figure will is predicted to rise to one in four by 2050, with the main causes being working in noisy industries such as music, mining, construction, manufacturing, or the military, and age-related hearing loss.
The Garnett Passe and Rodney William Memorial Foundation awarded a $1.25 million grant to the Bionics Institute, which has spent a decade creating a world-first drug to reverse hearing loss.
Unlike hearing aids or cochlear implants, the drug treats the underlying cause.
The foundation’s CEO, Jeanette Pritchard, said that the drug would be administered through the ear to restore hearing to people.
“When they are in the inner-ear, they actually promote the regrowth of the damaged connections between the hair cells in the ear and the neurons in the brain,” Pritchard told 7News.
“The real beauty of this technology is that we can deliver quite a large payload of these growth factors right to the site where they’re needed,” Associate Professor of the Bionics Institute Andrew Wise said.
He said the treatment is unique in that it uses nanotechnology, which can solve a major difficulty in delivering restorative drugs deep into the ear to treat hearing loss.
Nanotechnology has only been suitable for use under laboratory conditions, though the grant would allow the institute to progress the technology to a clinical trial.
Wise said the grant would accelerate the world-first therapy and allow the team to “develop a clinical-grade system suitable for a human trial.”
The institute expects to begin the first human trials in Australia within the next five years, and if all goes well, the drug will be available within a decade.