A single dose of a bioengineered gel, developed by US researchers, could deliver a full course of antibiotic therapy for a common childhood ear infection, a preclinical study has found.
Middle-ear infection, or otitis media, is an ear infection that is usually caused by bacteria or viruses.
Common symptoms include ear pain and fever and in some cases, it may also cause drainage of fluid from the ear or hearing loss. Although most ear infections go away on their own, some require antibiotics.
As high doses of oral antibiotics are needed to get to the ear, side effects like diarrhea, rashes and oral thrush are common.
“With oral antibiotics, you have to treat the entire body repeatedly just to get to the middle ear,” said Rong Yang, PhD, a chemical engineer at Boston Children’s Hospital in Massachusetts, US.
However, “with the gel, a paediatrician can administer the entire antibiotic course all at once, and only where it’s needed,” Yang said.
Squirted into the ear canal, the gel quickly hardens and stays in place, gradually dispensing antibiotics across the eardrum into the middle ear.
“Our technology gets things across the eardrum that don’t usually get across in sufficient quantity to be therapeutic,” added Daniel Kohane from Boston Children’s Hospital.
Previously, the eardrum (also called the tympanic membrane) was an impenetrable barrier, but the bioengineered gel gets drugs past it with the help of chemical permeation enhancers (CPEs).
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The CPEs insert themselves into the membrane, opening up molecular pores that allow the antibiotics to seep through to the eardrum’s outermost layer.
“Transtympanic delivery of antibiotics to the middle ear has the potential to enable children to benefit from the rapid antibacterial activity of antimicrobial agents without systemic exposure and could reduce emergence of resistant microbes,” noted Stephen Pelton, paediatrician at Boston Medical Center.
The findings, published by the journal Science Translational Medicine, have led to better, easier and potentially safer treatment for middle ear infections, the researchers concluded.
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