Research seeks to prevent hearing loss during chemotherapy

Videography by Jeanne Galatzer-Levy


Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Northwestern University are collaborating to develop a device to prevent hearing loss in patients undergoing chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy patients are often caught unaware when they find themselves dealing with hearing loss following treatment, according to David Klodd, professor of audiology in the UIC College of Medicine.

“Some commonly used chemotherapy drugs are ototoxic — that is, they can damage structures in the inner ear involved in hearing,” Klodd said.

Klodd is directing the trial of a new device that may be able to detect hearing loss early in chemotherapy, so doctors may be able to change medications or dosages to minimize damage to the inner ear, and an audiologist can begin rehabilitation.

Chemotherapy-related hearing loss usually begins in the highest frequencies, where it often goes unnoticed. The patient only realizes something is wrong when damage affects the part of the inner ear that detects lower frequency sound.

Unlike tests that rely on patients to signal when they hear a tone, the device — developed by Northwestern University’s Sumit Dhar and Jonathan Siegel, professor and associate professor, respectively, of communication sciences and disorders — can detect changes in inner-ear function even before the patient is aware of any change in ability to hear at the highest frequencies.

“We were interested in evaluating inner ear function out to the limits of human hearing,” said Dhar.

The device delivers two tones to the ear and measures the echo as the interacting waves return from the inner ear. These sounds, known as otoacoustic emissions, were discovered 35 years ago, but have never before been recorded clinically at these extremely high frequencies.

The researchers will enroll 20 patients at UI Health age 10-65 who are undergoing chemotherapy with cisplatin, a drug known to cause hearing loss that begins in the higher frequencies.

Gayla Poling, a clinical audiologist and postdoctoral fellow at UI Hospital, will assess participants’ hearing before and during chemotherapy. Twenty patients who are not receiving cisplatin will serve as controls.

“Our primary goal is to prevent progressive and permanent sensorineural hearing loss and help patients maintain their quality of life after chemotherapy,” said Klodd.

The research is supported by a grant from the American Hearing Research Foundation.

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