Testing a new treatment for glue ear

Dr Ruth Thornton from the University of Western Australia (UWA) has been selected by Fresh Science to be one of 12 early-career scientists unveiling their research to the public. Fresh Science is a national program sponsored by the Australian Government through the Inspiring Australia initiative.

Dr Thornton completed her PhD with A/Prof. Paul Rigby from the AMMRF at UWA during which time she had discovered the reasons why many children with otitis media (glue-ear) do not respond well to antibiotics. She found that the problem-causing bacteria are trapped in sticky biofilms. These make it hard for the antibiotics to get through to the bacteria and kill them. We reported this in the AMMRF 2011 Profile.

Dr Thornton noticed that the biofilms are very similar to those found in the lungs of patients suffering from cystic fibrosis (CF). She realised that this similarity might make glue ear succumb to the same drug that is used to break up the biofilms and thin out the lung secretions in CF. The drug, Dornase alfa (a human DNAse), is indeed able to break up the biofilms from children with otitis media. Dr Thornton was able to demonstrate this by using confocal microscopy at the AMMRF at UWA and the work was published earlier this year in PLOS ONE.

Clinical trials are now underway to test the drug in 60 children under the age of five who will each receive Dornase alfa in one ear during grommet surgery. The other ear will be used as a comparison and receive only surgery. Results will be collected over two years, with a larger national trial planned. They will also trial the treatment in indigenous children, who suffer from high rates of severe chronic middle ear infections, which can cause extensive hearing loss and chronically running ears.

“This is the first potential change in treating middle-ear infections for a long time, and more effective treatments will hopefully lead to improved hearing, better learning outcomes and a reduced burden on children and their families,? Dr Thornton said.

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