Encouraging new treatment for ear infections

NOTTINGHAM, ENGLAND—Scientists at the University of Nottingham have come up with a promising new way of treating otitis media with effusion (OME), a condition estimated to affect up to 80% of all children at least once. Even when treated, OME often recurs, and it can sometimes cause serious temporary or even hearing loss in those afflicted.

In an effort to prevent ear infections from becoming chronic, a University of Nottingham research team led by John Birchall, professor of otorhinolaryngology, and Roger Bayston, associate professor of surgical infection, have developed a tiny biodegradable pellet that slowly releases antibiotics into the middle ear to treat “glue ear,” a British term for OME.

The controlled-release pellet can be implanted in the middle ear during surgery to fit small ventilation tubes. Over three weeks, it slowly releases antibiotics in quantities effective for targeting the infection.

In a news release from the University of Nottingham, Birchall noted, “Glue ear is one of the commonest complaints that we see in children in the ENT clinic. The condition causes hearing loss, problems with speech or schooling, and often it is accompanied by repeated ear infections. We are particularly concerned about children that have glue ear that comes back despite surgery—with risks of permanent damage to the eardrum or the middle ear.” Typically, up to 20% of children with OME need to return for a second and sometimes third operation.

Dr. Mat Daniel, a member of the research team, added: “We knew that giving antibiotics by mouth was not going to work. We developed this biodegradable antibiotic pellet so we could put it directly into the ear, where the infection is. We hope that in the future this may very much reduce the need for children to have more than one operation.”

OME occurs when a thick mucus collects inside the ear, at the other side of the eardrum. This interferes with hearing and therefore with schooling, social development and relationships with friends and siblings. Research by the Nottingham group and other researchers has found that glue ear is caused by biofilms—bacteria that grow together in a protective “slime.”