It's a three-year project being carried out by biotech company Otomagnetics LLC and the University of Maryland. It's led by Dr Ben Shapiro. The project is funded through our Translational Research Initiative for Hearing (TRIH), whose grants fund research projects in the early stages of turning research discoveries into potential new treatments for hearing loss and tinnitus. The project began in January 2014 and will end in December 2017.
Steroids are the only effective treatment for a number of hearing conditions, including sudden sensorineural hearing loss.
But they have to be 'delivered' to the inner ear – and that's not easy! It's largely inaccessible, hidden behind a variety of membranes and other structures.
Ben Shapiro and his team have developed an ingenious system using magnetic fields to 'push' steroid-carrying nanoparticles (tiny, microscopic particles of iron loaded with steroids) across the inner ear membranes and into parts of the ear that aren't normally accessible.
The goal of Ben's project is to develop a new method to effectively deliver steroids to the inner ear for the treatment of sudden sensorineural hearing loss. He and the other researchers will improve their magnetic 'push' method, so that they can transport a larger amount of the drug into the inner ear.
Ben and his team will also demonstrate that the amount of steroid that can be delivered using this method is larger than that via injection through the eardrum (the current clinical method). Finally, they will show that the method is safe in an animal model.
If successful, clinicians would be able to use this technology to deliver different types of drug or gene therapies into the inner ear. This would be of great interest to the pharmaceutical industry – the present lack of an effective and non-invasive method of drug delivery directly to the inner ear is a real barrier to developing new therapies for hearing loss. This technology could revolutionise the treatment of inner ear conditions.
If this project is successful, Ben and his team should be able to secure further funding. This will enable them to complete the work needed to gain approval to conduct a clinical trial.