GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The drug gentamicin can provide effective treatment for people with bacterial infections that are resistant to other antibiotics, but this medication can cause a serious side effect, too: hearing loss.
Now, University of Florida researchers have discovered that a dietary supplement shows promise for protecting against drug-induced hearing loss when taken during gentamicin treatment. The findings of this study in rodents appear online ahead of print in the Journal of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology.
Gentamicin belongs to a class of antibiotics called aminoglycosides. They are used to treat infections that are resistant to other antibiotics, including penicillin or amoxicillin. Aminoglycosides are prescribed in the U.S. for conditions such as multidrug-resistant tuberculosis or for frequent lung infections experienced by patients with cystic fibrosis.
“In developing countries aminoglycosides are often used as a first-line treatment for any infection because they are so cheap and so readily available,” said Colleen Le Prell, the study’s lead investigator and an associate professor in the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions’ department of speech, language and hearing sciences.
Other studies have shown that between 2 and 25 percent of patients taking aminoglycoside antibiotics experience hearing loss. Estimates vary because hearing loss may develop slowly over weeks, and hearing tests taken during or immediately after drug treatment may miss hearing loss, Le Prell said. In addition, some studies use hearing tests that are more sensitive to the earliest effects of damage to the cells in the inner ear.
Le Prell and colleagues tested the use of a dietary supplement containing the antioxidants beta carotene and vitamins C and E, as well as the mineral magnesium, for protection against gentamicin-induced hearing loss. Hearing loss is largely caused by the production of free radicals, which destroy healthy inner ear cells. The antioxidant vitamins prevent hearing damage by “scavenging” the free radicals and protecting against their effects.
In previous studies, Le Prell demonstrated that these supplements prevented noise-induced hearing loss in animals. She is currently testing the vitamin combination in human clinical trials.
“We’re enthusiastic about the use of these vitamins because of the significant safety profile that exists,” Le Prell said. “These agents are generally regarded as safe with very well-known recommended daily intakes.”
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