A new pathway to the auditory nerve in the inner ear could speed up the development of treatments for hearing loss.
We’re really excited about new research which has identified a safe way to access the inner ear. The research was led by scientists at the University of Nottingham and funded by Rinri Therapeutics.
The challenge of accessing the inner ear
The auditory nerve carries information about sound to the brain, and damage to it causes permanent hearing loss. However, this part of the ear is extremely difficult to access. The inner ear is surrounded by a bony structure called the otic capsule, which is embedded within the temporal bone of the skull, the hardest bone in the body. This makes it difficult to access the inner ear from the outside.
Currently, treatments can be delivered to the middle and inner ear by injection through the eardrum. From there, the treatment must cross a layer of cells called the round window, a small gap in the otic capsule that allows sound to enter the inner ear. This isn’t very efficient – very little of the drug enters the inner ear via this method, and it often doesn’t move far enough to affect cells further inside the cochlea.
Another method that could be used to deliver drugs surgically to the inner ear is drilling through the skull – this is how cochlear implants are inserted. However, this is an invasive method that can easily damage the sensitive structures of the inner ear.
Using 3D imaging technology
Now a team of researchers, led by scientists at the University of Nottingham, have identified a way to access the structures of the inner ear without needing to drill through the skull. Using advanced 3D imaging technology, the researchers created detailed computer-generated images of the inner ear. Using these images, they identified a safe pathway that will enable surgeons to deliver new treatments directly to the auditory nerve.
The research was funded by Rinri Therapeutics, a biotechnology company developing stem cell treatments for hearing loss. Their focus is on repairing damage to the auditory nerve, based on research RNID funded at the University of Sheffield.
Ralph Holme, Director of Research and Insight at RNID, said:
“This research is a significant breakthrough which will provide scientists developing treatments for hearing loss with a safe way to reach the target cells in the inner ear.
“There are currently no ways to restore lost hearing, or prevent hearing loss from getting worse with time, but this research could help to speed up the development of vital treatments.”