Veterans Affairs

Therapeutics for auditory dysfunctions

Pharmaceutical formulations and kits derived from natural sources

Medical & Biotechnology

A scientist at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has recently invented chemical compositions and methods for treating hearing loss. The patented technology is available via patent license agreement to companies that would make, use, or sell it commercially.

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Kayla Gearheart, 7th Aerospace Medicine Squadron public health technician, administers a hearing test to Maj. Andrew Leader, 436th Training Squadron assistant director of operations, at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas. Airmen can be exposed to auditory damaging fumes from fuels as well as noise from engines.

Auditory dysfunction is an ongoing and increasing problem. Disorders typically arise from both acute and chronic exposures to loud sounds, ototoxic chemicals, and aging. Sounds exceeding 85 decibels – gunshots, bomb explosions, jet engines, power tools, and music concerts – can cause hearing loss. Side effects to noise-induced hearing loss include tinnitus (ringing in the ears), diminished speech understanding, hyperacusis, and various types of auditory processing impairments. Exposures to commonly used medications and industrial products may also unintentionally lead to side effect auditory dysfunctions. And, hearing problems are a common consequence of aging in Western societies.

Unfortunately, very few cases of hearing loss can actually be cured. Palliative devices such as hearing aids have limitations including the inability to improve speech intelligibility. Hearing aids essentially amplify sounds which stimulate unimpaired cells; however, there is no therapy for aiding the recovery of impaired cells or maximizing the function of existing unimpaired cells. Hearing aids cannot correct for suprathreshold or retrocochlear impairments such as impaired speech intelligibility, speech in noise deficits, tinnitus, hyperacusis, loudness recruitment and various other types of central auditory processing disorders. Effective in young deaf children when language skills are developing fastest, cochlear implants require viable neurons in order to achieve the benefit, involve invasive surgery, and are expensive. In cases of age-related, noise- or drug-induced auditory dysfunctions, the only effective way to currently treat or reduce the severity of the disorder is prevention: avoiding excessive noise and using ear protectors, practicing a healthy lifestyle, and avoiding exposure to ototoxic drugs and substances.

A need exists to protect auditory cells before an injury and to preserve or promote the function of existing cells after injury. In response, a VA researcher has developed new formula and methods for treating auditory impairments that include the administration of a composition of one or more of the following: a carboxy alkyl ester, a quinic acid, caffeic acid, or ferulic acid derivative; a quinic acid lactone, alkaloid, pentacyclic alkaloid, tannin, or phytochemical derived from the inner bark or root of Uncaria tomentosa. The compounds may be useful for treating an auditory impairment, cochlear inflammation, permanent sensorineural hearing loss, tinnitus, loudness recruitment, hyperacusis, diplacusis or speech intelligibility deficits.

In the context of hearing therapy, the agents may be used alone, or in combination with other therapeutics such as anti-cancer therapies that employ drugs that are potentially detrimental to hearing.

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