DOD-funded project fuels inner ear drug delivery

The persistent ear ringing of tinnitus has long been a scourge for sufferers and doctors alike. The affliction is the most commonly claimed disability among American vets, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, and physicians struggle to treat the disease, in part because of the difficulty of getting drugs into patients' ears.

That could change if a Cambridge, MA, R&D nonprofit is successful. Draper Laboratory received a $100,000 grant from the Department of Defense to develop a tiny, implantable drug delivery device that could be inserted between the middle and inner ears, releasing a drug into the cochlea to treat tinnitus.

As Scientific American reports, the device would be outfitted with wireless capabilities, allowing doctors or patients to control dosage remotely and respond to tinnitus's intermittent flare-ups. The polymer-based device would harmlessly dissolve once it had expended its drug content.

There are currently no tinnitus drugs available on the market, Draper points out in a release, and, if the lab succeeds in designing the device, researchers would have to identify a worthy treatment to load into the capsule. That treatment could come from GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) spinout Autifony Therapeutics, which, as FierceBiotech reported in August, has drugs for hearing loss and tinnitus in its pipeline.

But the Draper vessel's capabilities go beyond treating ear ailments: The nonprofit envisions the self-dissolving polymer coming in handy for environmental observations in which scientists don't want to leave any pollutants behind.

Draper isn't the first to try to tackle the problem of treating tinnitus lately. In June, the National Science Foundation awarded $330,000 to two Wayne State researchers who planned to build a neural probe that could suppress tinnitus symptoms by stimulating neural tissue. MuteButton, an Irish company, pulled in a nearly $289,000 investment last year to test its iPhone-sized device that uses headphones to deliver sounds into the ear that diminish the effects of tinnitus. (Image courtesy of Draper Laboratory)

- read Draper's release
- check out the Scientific American story
- get more from The Boston Globe