Approximately $2.5 million is being invested in innovative research projects across the ear, nose and throat sector, through the Garnett Passe and Rodney Williams Memorial Foundation’s 2021 Awards to leading scientists and clinicians.
Nanotechnology will be utilised to treat hearing loss by delivering growth factors into the inner ear in world-leading research. This therapeutic technology will be taken to human clinical trials through the $1.25 million Senior Fellowship, awarded to Associate Professor Andrew Wise from the Bionics Institute.
The applications of this technology will be far reaching and may offer a good option to cancer patients who have suffered hearing loss as a result of treatment.
“Hearing loss is a known side effect of platinum-based chemotherapy drugs,” said Andrew Wise, Associate Professor at The Bionics Institute. “Therefore, strategies that can protect and repair damage are particularly relevant, which means the therapy we’re developing will be helpful to patients who have suffered hearing loss following chemotherapy.”
Other projects being funded include using brain imaging to measure light for the assessment of hearing impairment in infants and developing an Artificial Intelligence based smartphone app to combat hearing loss in Indigenous communities.
“Hearing loss is a known side effect of platinum-based chemotherapy drugs,” Andrew Wise
The Passe and Williams Foundation Awards are the most generous medical research funding to a single field across Australia and New Zealand. Over the past 30 years more than $70 million has been awarded to the best people and projects across the ear, nose and throat sector. This has resulted in many world-leading medical advances including the national newborn hearing screening program, a saliva test for the early detection of throat cancers, and using video goggles to detect balance disorders – a breakthrough now in use in over 100 countries.
CEO of the Passe and Williams Foundation, Dr Jeanette Pritchard, said the 2021 Awards recipients were advancing exciting, significant projects that could change lives.
“These initiatives should improve health in Australia and across the world. We are proud to support their development,” she said.
“The project to reverse hearing loss is especially significant as nearly half a billion people world-wide have serious hearing loss. It’s the most common disability in developed countries,” Dr Pritchard.
Age and excessive noise exposure are the main causes and there is no medical treatment currently available.”
The funding will enable the treatment to be developed for clinical trials in humans. The process uses nanotechnology particles to deliver neurotrophins into the inner ear, to both prevent further hearing loss and repair damaged connections between the nerve fibres and the delicate sensory hair cells, potentially restoring lost hearing.
Associate Professor Andrew Wise said, “This project aims to deliver ground-breaking hearing loss therapy through a first-in-human trial. This funding should enable those trials to begin within four years, and potentially be on the market not long after.
“Hearing loss has serious repercussions across the community, impacting our ability to communicate with loved ones and lead full lives, we want to change that.”
Another Bionics Institute researcher, Dr Darren Mao, received a Junior Fellowship worth $191,600, to develop the use of new brain imaging technology that measures visible light to assess children’s hearing.
Bionics Institute CEO Mr Robert Klupacs said the support of the Passe and Williams Foundation had been invaluable in enabling many breakthroughs by researchers. “Andrew Wise’s project could provide the world with a treatment to restore lost hearing, which, if successful, could be life changing for potentially many millions of people,” he said.
Dr Al-Rahim Habib from the University of Sydney is creating an AI-based smartphone-app using tens-of-thousands of Indigenous eardrum images collected over a decade. The app has the potential to allow health workers with limited experience to instantly recognise ear disease in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with an accuracy similar to an ENT specialist.
For more information visit the The Garnett Passe and Rodney Williams Memorial Foundation website.