Jan 2019 Medical Xpress
Blood levels of a special protein found only in the inner ear spike after exposure to loud noise, UConn Health researchers report. The findings point the way to blood tests that could warn people at risk of hearing loss before they suffer serious damage.Hearing loss can sneak up on people, slowly muffling the world, but only noticeable once the damage is done. Chronic exposure to loud noises can cause it, as can certain medications. Cisplatin, a cancer drug used to treat solid tumors, and gentamicin, an antibiotic effective against a wide range of bacterial infections, are both known to damage hearing as a side effect. But not all patients treated with them will develop hearing loss, and both of these drugs and others known to damage hearing are still prescribed when their potential benefits outweigh the risk. They are discontinued if hearing loss occurs.
UConn otolaryngologist Kourosh Parham wants to do better than that. "Currently you can only identify hearing loss after it has occurred. Since there's no treatment for it, that's a devastating limitation," Parham says. He and colleagues at UConn Health are collaborating with French pharmaceutical company Sensorion to develop a blood test that can warn patients and their doctors of early damage to the inner ear, before hearing loss is noticeable. Parham and his colleagues report that levels of prestin, a protein found only in cells in the inner ear, rise sharply when those cells are damaged and start to die. Prestin is found specifically in outer hair cells. Outer hair cells serve as amplifiers. The prestin is a special protein that responds to sound waves, by expanding and contracting. It acts like a little muscle, and makes the cells appear to 'dance.' The dancing of the outer hair cells changes the shape of the membrane in the inner ear, amplifying the sound. Because prestin is not found in any other part of the body, increased levels of prestin in the blood could indicate damage to the outer hair cells in the ear. And that is exactly what Parham and colleagues found, when they exposed rodents to very loud noises and then measured their blood levels of prestin. A similar finding was reported last year after mice were exposed to cisplatin.
The next step in the research is to test whether this happens to humans, too. But instead of exposing humans to loud noises, Parham's team wants to collaborate with cancer doctors who treat many patients with cisplatin. The patients can have their hearing and prestin levels tested before going on the drug, and then periodically during their treatment. Anyone whose blood levels of prestin spiked could be tested for early signs of hearing loss and switched to another anticancer drug. Partnering with the military, which often requires members to be regularly exposed to loud noises, is another potential path to putting the prestin test to use.
Nov 2018 Dezeen
These 3D-printed hearing aids could help people who are partially deaf to tune out unwanted background noise, but they also function as regular earphones. Manchester Metropolitan University student Elen Parry designed the hexagonal-shaped earbuds, called Hex, to resemble normal earphones. Aiming to "reduce the stigma" of wearing an aid, her aim is to create a product that can be used by everyone, so that those with hearing loss don't have to feel self-conscious. "People with disabilities often feel excluded and conspicuous because of their medical devices," said Parry, who studied on the Industrial Digitalisation MSc programme. "I want to transform hearing aids into a wearable technology product that gives people better hearing, style and confidence – something that anyone might want to wear," she explained.
The earbuds use a processing chip that differentiates between background noise and active noise, such as music or a voice on a phone call. The earpiece enables users to increase or decrease the volume of background noise themselves, allowing those with hearing difficulties to more easily tune out surrounding noise. As well as immediately improving the quality of hearing, Parry's aids also prevent the user's hearing from deteriorating further. Regular silicone earbuds can be attached to the hearing aids to transform them into headphones. The device can then be connected to Bluetooth to listen to music or receive phone calls.
"I looked into designing something that could create an improved situation for everyone, rather than a niche for people who are seen as less abled," said Parry. She came up with the idea for the product after noticing her cousin feeling self-conscious wearing a standard, over-the-ear hearing aid. "It has been an interest of mine for a while to try to remove stigma through desirable design," she said. "Medical devices tend to stay the same over time – they are designed by engineers, who don't necessarily think about user experience.” A rechargeable graphene battery is inserted into the product. She mocked up the design on computer-aided design (CAD) software and 3D-printed the pieces using medical grade titanium. A rechargeable graphene battery is inserted into the product, with dual connectivity strips for faster charging. "The idea behind creating Hex earbuds was to create a hearing device for everyone, whether you live with hearing loss or perfect hearing," she explained.