In an Australian first, surgeons at Fremantle Hospital and The University of Western Australia believe a new method of repairing perforated ear drums could be a major advance in ear health.
Professor Gunesh Rajan, Head of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery in UWA's School of Surgery, and a consultant at Fremantle Hospital, said tympanic membrane perforation, or hole in the ear drum, affected around 100,000 Australians and more than 80 million people worldwide.
"This common health problem condemns most of these people to a life of struggle and poverty by robbing them of their hearing," Professor Rajan said.
"They include Australia's Indigenous population, which has one of the world's highest incidences of chronic ear disease and ear drum perforations."
Professor Rajan, who heads a research team of Australian ear, nose and throat specialists, said the new regenerative method had been pioneered by Professor Shin-Ichi Kanemaru in Osaka, Japan.
"The current conventional treatment is a time-consuming, complicated operation that requires a general anaesthetic and this is frequently beyond the reach of developing countries as well as Australia's indigenous children in remote communities," he said.
"Professor Kanemaru's ingenious method involves a five-minute procedure that stimulates the body to close the perforation itself, using naturally occurring bio-engineered growth factor substances which are applied to the rim of the perforation.
"The remarkable healing qualities of the human body grow back the tissue and close the hole completely, restoring the ability to hear."
The new technique reduces the operation time from 35 minutes to five minutes and, for adults, can be done in an outpatient clinic. Professor Rajan said a trial involving adults and children was now under way at Fremantle Hospital to replicate the Japanese trial while another trial was also due to start soon at Princess Margaret Hospital for Children.
A team of dedicated UWA specialists - Professor Rajan, Professor Harvey Coates, Professor Francis Lannigan and Dr Stephen Rodrigues - have started a trial at Fremantle Hospital and 11 procedures have been performed. The procedures use a gel foam sponge with a fibroblast growth factor and fibrin glue to prepare and stimulate the site of the ear perforation.
"The treatment is similar to other wound healing applications, such as for burns or diabetic foot ulcers," Professor Rajan said. "It's a very simple and cost-effective medical procedure that has a success rate higher than 90 per cent. The simplicity of the procedure will make a big difference, especially in children.
"Where children are concerned, a strong hearing means a strong start in life. With these trials, we can introduce this new technique and spread the word medically so that every child and adults can benefit, regardless of where they live."
In a paper, "Regenerative Treatment of Tympanic Membrane Perforation", published last year in the journal Otology and Neurotology, Professor Kanemaru and his team reported complete closure of 52 of 53 chronic tympanic perforation cases where the smart ear method was used.
Professor Gunesh Rajan (UWA School of Surgery) (+61 8) 9431 2144 / (+61 4) 05 988 887
Kym Coolhaas (Public Relations Manager, Fremantle (+61 8) 9431 2056 / (+61 4) 38 920 460
Hospital and Health Service)
Michael Sinclair-Jones (UWA Public Affairs) (+61 8) 6488 3229 / (+61 4) 00 700 783