Troops with tinnitus could find relief with Draper device

CAMBRIDGE, Troops suffering from tinnitus developed after encountering explosions during battle could one day be treated by a drug delivery technology now being developed at Draper Laboratory.

Tinnitus, which can be debilitating, is the single largest cause of disability in veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. One recent study found that 40 percent of returning troops suffered from this condition.

There are no specific tinnitus drugs available today, so doctors may prescribe off-label anti-depressants or painkillers for troops suffering from tinnitus, which offers temporary relief in some cases, but may result in severe side effects or require repeated, painful injections.

Draper envisions its drug delivery device as providing extended, painless delivery to the middle ear, where the drug can diffuse across the round window membrane to gain access to the cochlea. The Lab is developing a system based on novel electronic properties of polymers and wireless communications to give patients the ability to control the dosage if they choose to do so.

The project is taking place under contract to the Department of Defense through the Peer Reviewed Medical Research Program. The research team includes Jeff Borenstein, who leads Draper's work in tissue engineering and drug delivery, and Jane Wang, a Draper Lab Fellow whose research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is supervised by Professor Robert Langer.

After the device finishes delivering its supply of drugs, it would dissolve harmlessly into the body. In addition to medical applications, this dissolvable electronics technology could also be applied to sensors for environmental observations in oceans, forests, and other areas that do not result in pollution when the work is over.