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New research could prevent hearing loss for 50% of people with cystic fibrosis

RNID and Cystic Fibrosis Trust have teamed up to fund vital research to prevent hearing loss caused by a commonly prescribed antibiotic. The £210,000 research project will run for three years.

More than 10,800 people in the UK have cystic fibrosis (CF), one of the UK’s most common life-limiting inherited diseases. People with cystic fibrosis are prone to recurring lung infections which need to be treated with aminoglycoside antibiotics.

Aminoglycoside antibiotics are very effective against life threatening infections and are associated with low rates of antibiotic resistance, however they can also cause hearing loss.

Everyone with CF has a different experience of the condition and so it is difficult to say how many people with CF are affected by hearing loss side effects of antibiotics. Researchers estimate it may be as high 50% of adults with the condition, which is something RNID and Cystic Fibrosis Trust are working to stop.

The project is funding researchers at Stanford University to develop new aminoglycosides that are less toxic to hearing. By the end of the three years the researchers hope to have at least three new aminoglycosides that can be moved towards clinical testing.

Dr Alan Cheng who is leading the research, said:

Aminoglycosides enter and kill the sensory hair cells in the inner ear that are vital for hearing. Our approach is to design and test versions of these medicines that aren’t able to get into hair cells, but retain the ability to kill bacteria”.

Mark Aisthorpe, 30, is a chef from Rotherham. Mark experienced hearing loss after being treated with the antibiotic tobramycin for a CF infection when he was 16 years old. He said:

Until I started losing my hearing I was always pretty good about taking my CF medicines, but developing hearing loss put me off taking them for nearly 10 years. It affected my social life too – I used to love nights out and meeting new people, but I lost interest in that altogether as I couldn’t hear what people were saying.

I spent five years teaching myself to lip read, and at my restaurant all the workstations in the kitchen are arranged so we’re opposite each other, which makes lip reading much easier.”

Dr Ralph Holme, Director of Research and Insight at RNID, said:

As well as treating cystic fibrosis lung infections, this class of antibiotic is also commonly used to prevent infections in neonatal babies. We’re excited about the potential impact this research could have on hundreds of people to prevent them losing their hearing as a result of aminoglycoside antibiotics.”

Dr Lucy Allen, Director of Research at Cystic Fibrosis Trust, said:

We’re delighted to co-fund this important research with RNID to reduce the hearing loss side effects of taking aminoglycoside antibiotics. These medicines are a vital part of treating the serious lung infections that people with CF develop, but any improvements we can find will also benefit many others with hard to treat infections.”

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