Sufferers of tinnitus and other hearing disorders have had virtually no proved treatment options. That’s because the inner ear is one of the most inaccessible places in the human body—a bony, membrane-lined labyrinth measuring only a few cubic millimeters. These tight quarters make surgery all but impossible. “We can operate in the heart, in the brain, even inside the eye—the only place where we can’t operate in a functioning organ is the inner ear,” says Robert Jackler, a Stanford University School of Medicine otologist–neurotologist who specializes in complex ear diseases.
The tiny space has also thwarted most attempts to develop and deliver drugs to treat hearing disorders, whether brought on by aging or exposure to loud noises. Such tiny amounts of fluid are needed, with even more finely tuned quantities of drugs, that attempts to dispense medication over long periods of time have failed. “We’ve tried directed medication when treating hearing disorders but the way we do it today is very imprecise and poorly calibrated,” Jackler says.
Listen carefully, though, and a slow, steady din of progress in materials science and bioengineering can be heard gathering momentum to help those suffering from a range of debilitating auditory ailments.
Two systems, in particular, are gaining a lot of attention: one that infuses a little polymer matrix with drugs to stop relentless ringing in the ears and one that uses a miniscule pump to deliver the goods to damaged hair cells, or cilia, that cause hearing loss.
Source: Scientific American