A new study shows that almost one in five Americans have hearing loss severe enough to affect their ability to communicate. It’s a problem scientists at OMRF and Hough Ear Institute are working hard to solve.
The new research from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine shows that nearly 20 percent of all Americans age 12 and older experience hearing loss severe enough to interfere with day-to-day communication.
“The new numbers are absolutely shocking,” said OMRF researcher Robert Floyd, Ph.D. “That’s about 48 million Americans who have to deal with impaired communication, social isolation and loneliness.”
In laboratory experiments, Floyd, working with Hough CEO and retired Army ear surgeon Richard Kopke, M.D., found that a combination of two chemical compounds—4-OHPBN nitrone and n-acetyl-cysteine—could stop damage to the inner ear caused by acute acoustic trauma.
“I was investigating one compound, and Dr. Kopke had been doing work with the other compound,” said Floyd, who holds the Merrick Foundation Chair in Aging Research at OMRF. “We both saw some success working the compounds individually, but when we combined them, we found that the combination proved many times more effective at preventing hearing loss.”
Kopke and Floyd’s experiments showed the combination to be effective at reducing damage caused by acute acoustic trauma—when intense noise causes the hair cells in the inner ear to die. By administering the compounds soon after exposure to intense noise, the researchers have found that they can reduce hearing loss by up to 80 percent.
The scientists hope the next step for their research will be to test the compounds in human subjects who have suffered acoustic trauma. Otologic Pharmaceutics, Inc. is a biotech firm striving to advance this research to the clinic.
“We live in a very loud world. Whether it’s soldiers in a warzone or children playing video games with the volume up too high, sound can damage us in very real, very limiting ways,” he said. “Hearing loss alone costs the U.S. Department of Defense about $1 billion a year. That’s just military personnel. Imagine how much treating our nation’s growing hearing loss will cost.”
In the longer term, Floyd and Kopke also hope to look at whether the compounds can be effective at preventing hearing loss that occurs as people grow older.
“If we’re right, this therapy could help not just soldiers dealing with combat-related hearing loss, but also civilians experiencing age-related hearing loss,” Floyd said. “To lose your hearing is to lose a basic connection with the world around you. We hope our research might someday be able to make that problem a thing of the past.”
Floyd and Kopke’s research has been funded by the U.S. Department of Defense Office of Naval Research.