Researchers work to prevent hearing loss after chemo


Researchers at UIC 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 after treatment, says David Klodd, professor of audiology.

“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 to detect hearing loss early in chemotherapy, so doctors can change medications or dosages to minimize damage to the inner ear and audiologists 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 researchers Sumit Dhar and Jonathan Siegel — 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, professor of communication sciences and disorders.

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

The researchers will follow 20 UI Health patients ages 10 to 65 who are undergoing chemotherapy with cisplatin, a drug known to cause hearing loss.

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 hearing loss and help patients maintain their quality of life after chemotherapy,” Klodd said.

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

— Jeanne Galatzer-Levy contributed to this story.

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