A single application of a bioengineered gel into the ear may one day offer kids and parents an easier way to treat bacterial ear infections, new research suggests. Squirted in the ear canal, the gel could deliver a full course of antibiotics for middle ear infections, known as otitis media, an extremely common problem in children.
Anyone can develop a middle ear infection but infants between six and 15 months old are most commonly affected. It’s estimated that around one in every four children experience at least one middle ear infection by the time they’re 10 years old.
This treatment could be potentially safer and more convenient than current methods, finds a preclinical study led by Boston Children’s Hospital in collaboration with investigators at Boston Medical Center and Massachusetts Eye and Ear. The findings were published September 14 by the journal Science Translational Medicine.
“Right now, the way otitis media is treated is with a three-times-a-day, 10-day antibiotic course, and it tends to be pretty much full-contact wrestling to get kids to take the antibiotics — that is one problem we set out to address,” said lead researcher Dr. Daniel Kohane, director of the Laboratory for Biomaterials and Drug Delivery at Boston Children’s Hospital.
Finding ear drops to treat otitis media has been an ongoing mission, as drugs inserted into the ear are usually blocked by the eardrum, so they never reach the bacteria in the middle ear, the researchers explained.
The new gel, however, contains fats that help the antibiotic cross the eardrum, where the antibiotic (ciprofloxacin) is slowly released over a week.
“With oral antibiotics, you have to treat the entire body repeatedly just to get to the middle ear,” says Rong Yang, PhD, a chemical engineer in Kohane’s lab and first author on the paper. “With the gel, a pediatrician could administer the entire antibiotic course all at once, and only where it’s needed.”
When tested in chinchillas (rodents with a hearing range and ear structure similar to humans), the gel dispensed high concentrations of the antibiotic ciprofloxin in the middle ear and completely cured ear infections due to Haemophilus influenzae in 10 of 10 animals. Ordinary ciprofloxacin ear drops cleared the infection in only 5 of 8 animals by day 7.
“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,” says Stephen Pelton, MD, a pediatric infectious disease physician at Boston Medical Center and a coauthor on the paper.