Patient testing has begun on a new medicine, developed by British scientists, to treat tinnitus and hearing loss following favourable results in the initial laboratory studies.
Figures show that about half of all people over 60 suffer from some form of hearing loss related to ageing, while 10% of the UK population have issues with tinnitus.
When the hairs in the inner ear become damaged or die they can no longer pass on the sound signals needed for hearing to the nerve endings to be passed on to the brain. This is the cause of age-related hearing loss. Scientists are now also starting to link the issue to nerve cells inside the brain.
While there is currently no way to cure this type of hearing-loss, there are treatments available, such as hearing aids and cochlear implants.
Tinnitus is the name given to the condition where somebody hears a sound without an obvious source. Different people can perceive different sounds, such as buzzing, ringing or hissing. Currently 1% of the population have their quality of life seriously affected by the condition.
Again, there are a number of treatments, these include drugs, electrical treatments and behavioural therapies, however, the results vary in effectiveness.
Nerve cells need potassium to transfer signals. The new drug, being tested, uses a protein, known as Kv3, which aids in the formation of pores on the surface of nerve cells, specifically in the area of the brain concerned with hearing. The pores allow the vital potassium to enter the nerve cells.
Previous research has shown the link between ageing and a decrease in levels of Kv3 and that it may be the cause of difficulty in understanding speech and be a contributing factor towards tinnitus.
How Does The Trial Work?
The new trial, conducted by University College London Hospital, as well as another ten hospitals in the UK will give 150 patients four daily pills. Some will be the new drug and others a placebo. The study will run for a period of four weeks and will include patients who have been suffering from tinnitus for between six to eighteen months.
If the trial is successful, the hope is to move on to trial the drug on patients who have longer term tinnitus.
A similar trial is also set to be run at the University of Florida involving 100 age-related hearing loss patients taking 3 doses a day or a placebo for a month.