Home > News > In the News: State Discovery Could Restore Hearing

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Does anyone in your life suffer from hearing loss?

In the U.S., hearing loss impacts the daily lives of 48 million people from young to old — in classrooms, in conversation, in business and social settings, even at home as they watch a football game or the news.

Imagine the impact if there was a pill that could prevent hearing loss and regenerate the nerve endings inside the ear to restore hearing to people whose hearing has already declined.

Such a therapy is moving toward clinical testing at Otologic Pharmaceutics, a spinout of technology from the Hough Ear Institute and Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.

Otologic Pharmaceutics is out to prevent and reverse neural hearing loss. The two biggest causes of this condition (also known as nerve deafness) are aging and noise, which destroy the sensory hair cells and the nerve endings in the ear.

At age 65, about one in three people has a hearing loss, which may not be much of a surprise. However, a recent study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control states that about 10 percent of the entire millennial generation suffers from hearing loss. This damage may not show up until later, but it’s happening today. The common culprits are everywhere: earbuds, loud music, concerts and TV, leaf blowers and lawn mowers, construction noise, and, for those in the military, explosions.

“We call the pill we are working on the bomb-blast pill,” said Dr. Richard Kopke, CEO of Hough Ear Institute and chief medical officer of Otologics. “In the military, blast injuries, which produce ringing in the ear and sound when there is nothing producing sound, are very common. It was a serendipitous discovery that as we were testing the pill as a therapy to prevent hearing damage, we discovered that it actually regrew the nerve endings that connect the inner ear to the brain, restoring hearing.”

Otologics is also testing its hearing loss prevention therapy in cancer treatments that involve cisplatin, a drug that is effective against multiple types of cancer but causes hearing loss in a significant percentage of patients. About 700,000 people a year are treated with cisplatin.

“We look at the ear and inner ear all day long,” Kopke said. “It takes your breath away, the beauty of the design. I started working in this field in 1996. For the majority of that time, up until about four years ago, I would have said that auditory hair cell regeneration with auditory restoration was impossible.”

“When we saw hair cells coming back and hearing coming back, and we could reproduce it, it was jaw dropping for us.”

It is jaw dropping to think that a technology discovered and commercialized here in Oklahoma has the potential to improve the lives of so many millions of people.

This is what an innovation economy is all about.

This article was originally featured in The Oklahoman on Tuesday, August 22, 2017 and has been shared with permission by the author, Scott Meacham. Scott is president and CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state’s technology-based startup companies. i2E receives state support from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology and is an integral part of Oklahoma’s Innovation Model.

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4 Comments, RSS

  • Anne Allen

    says on:
    August 25, 2017 at 1:52 PM

    My daughter is 34; has severe to profound hearing loss due to MMR vaccine at age 18 months. I did not want her to sign as did not want her to be defined by her deafness. I outfitted her with strong bilateral hearing aids & she lip reads. She got her Masters degree at the University of Colorado in Boulder. She never gives up hope that there will be a discovery for deafness due to discoveries to regenerate hair cells. It seems more studies are done in England than the U.S. Please let us know when clinical studies to the (bomb-blast pill) you are researching become available. I wonder if the research is so slow due to the hearing aid industry fearing loss of profits. Please keep me updated on this exciting research. As fast as technology is advancing I just cannot understand why more is not happening in this field. She has analog hearing aids which are old & do not work well any more. She cannot tolerate the new programable ones. Is there anywhere to get analog aids anymore? She emailed me your article. She would be interested in a trial study.

    • Admin

      says on:
      September 21, 2017 at 10:45 AM

      Thanks for your interest in our research and for sharing your story with us. Stories like your daughter’s are what inspire us to keep working hard towards new breakthroughs. To stay in touch about the latest news, consider subscribing to our email newsletter if you have not yet done so.

  • Mauritz

    says on:
    August 28, 2017 at 2:56 PM

    It’s somewhat encouraging to read things like these.

    I’m suffering from tinnitus daily, and I will jump onto any opportunity there is to get rid of it as it makes me very depressed and very few people I meet take it seriously, even most doctors I meet don’t seem to think having a blaring siren in your head at all times is worth worrying about.
    I only hope a cure comes out before the noise in my head becomes so overwhelming that I give up on life.

    • Admin

      says on:
      September 21, 2017 at 10:47 AM

      We are happy you’ve been encouraged by our research. Thank you for your comments – it’s for people like you that we work so diligently every day. We are truly driven to help others like yourself to be free from suffering of tinnitus. We understand it is difficult to live with this and hope our research will provide results that impact people in a positive way.