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Our research scientists at HEI are investigating the molecular, cellular and neurologic basis of hearing pathologies as well as methods for both preventing and reversing them. Current research is exploring:

• new treatments to prevent hearing loss using antioxidants

• new approaches to deliver therapeutics to the inner ear using nanoparticles

• cutting edge methods for regeneration of sensory cells in the inner ear that are destroyed due to aging or exposure to auditory trauma

AREAS OF RESEARCH
Antioxidants for prevention of noise and blast-induced hearing loss.

The use of antioxidants in preventing hearing loss has been a major interest of the HEI researchers. Dr. Kopke’s previous research on the effects of antioxidants preventing hearing loss caused by noise exposure, and the research of Dr. Robert Floyd and the Oklahoma Research Foundation on the molecular basis of the biological activity of antioxidants has lead to a highly productive collaboration between the two institutions. Research funded by the US Department of the Navy during the past few years has demonstrated that a combination of antioxidants when delivered shortly after exposure to a level of noise or blast can prevent a process of cellular degradation that would otherwise result in permanent hearing loss. The potential clinical importance of these findings is enormous as blast related injuries have become a part of both military and civilian life, as we have experienced here in Oklahoma with the Murrah bombing.

Use of nanoparticles for delivery of therapeutics to the inner ear

One of the difficulties in treating hearing loss is the relative inaccessibility of the inner ear where the essential sensory components of the auditory system are located. Nanoparticles containing therapeutic compounds are being explored as a means of delivery to the inner ear. These particles have the potential to provide sustained and targeted delivery of therapeutics over a long period of time.

Reprogramming of cells to replace sensory cells in the cochlea

A major frustration of hearing loss due to acute acoustic trauma and aging is the fact that the sensory cells in the inner ear are irreversibly lost. It has been only a dream of otologists that these cells and hearing could be restored. There is hope that this dream could come true. HEI researchers have demonstrated that by turning off key proteins in the cochlea, cells can be made to change their role as support cells to become the sensory hair cells that are essential for hearing.

Testing of potential pharmaceuticals for use in patients

One of the aims of the research at HEI is to move the findings from the research bench to the clinic. Accordingly, the demonstration of the effectiveness of a combination of antioxidants on preventing hearing loss in animal models justified the funding of preclinical studies in humans and Phase I of FDA trials has now been completed. Our aim is to be able to obtain FDA approval within the next 3-5 years so that exposures to acoustic trauma both in civilian and military life need not lead to permanent hearing loss.