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The Sciences

Can you hear me now? Advancing hearing loss prevention and treatment

The IntersectionBy The IntersectionMarch 10, 2011 5:07 AM

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This is a guest post from Dr. Heather CJ Smith of Creighton University, composed while attending the NSF Science: Becoming the Messenger workshop in Lincoln, Ne. Hearing loss is a widely-preventable public health dilemma costing the US economy $56 billion annually. In the US alone, oral antibiotics cause approximately 120,000 people to suffer from some form of irreversible-hearing loss. Since antibiotics are essential for treating life-threatening infections, it is critically important to develop new hearing loss prevention and treatment strategies. With the advent of new imaging technologies, my research group has been able to make the first real-time measurements of inner ear metabolism (energy production and use). This novel technique allowed us to ‘see’ how inner ear energy production is rapidly and dramatically inhibited by specific antibiotics. Unfortunately, such decreases in metabolism lead to the production of cell-damaging free radicals which, when generated at high-rates, permanently damage cells and the inner ear. This damage leads to irreversible-hearing loss. I am working on expanding these novel findings by researching how and why antibiotics interfere with energy production and cause free radical generation in the inner ear. Once we understand the mechanisms controlling the production free radicals during antibiotic treatment, optimized hearing loss prevention strategies can be developed and implemented to preserve the hearing of thousands of people every year.

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