Glue Ear Research

Reporter: Graeme Butler

Like many medical breakthrough it was a simple observation that led Dr Ruth Thornton to a potentially massive discovery - she noticed the sticky liquid found in children's Glue Ear was similar to that found in the lungs of people suffering Cystic Fibrosis - bingo... why not try the same drug Dornase Alpha and see what happens. "When we saw this DNA we saw these live bacteria using this DNA as a home we thought we'll try some of the treatment that they use in the lungs of people with Cystic Fibrosis took the middle ear fluid in the lab, took the dornazalpha which is the enzyme that cuts up DNA and put that together in the lab and actually found out that it seems to dissolve it quite well and so now we've gone to try and get rid of that to use that in the middle ear of kids when they're having grommets put in"

Glue Ear is caused by a build-up of sticky fluid behind the ear-drum - it causes the ear-drum to bulge causing hearing loss. - And this is what it looks like... thick and sticky -"why it's called Glue Ear? because the fluid is very sticky and the kids that we see particularly in the study the fluid can be anything from an egg white consistency to almost chewing gum and the surgeons when they get it out it's physically pulling it out almost it's very sticky hence the term glue ear"

Until now treatment has been difficult and relied on surgery to implant small tubes called grommets into the eardrum to drain the fluid. "Nothing has worked terribly well, so unfortunately while anti-biotics are good for controlling that initial infection they don't really seem to get rid of that more chronic part of the disease"

Dr Peter Richmond is a Paediatrician he says a WA new trial is testing the effectiveness of the treatment. He believes the potential could be enormous. "We estimate that in WA each year about three and a half to four thousand children will require surgery for ear disease so it's a significant burden that's almost one in 15 children having an operation at one stage in their childhood so if we can reduce that number then that would be a fantastic outcome breakthrough i think"

Glue Ear is often associated with severe and re-occurring ear infections in Children - at least 85% of kids will experience at least one.

Helen and Georgina are both mum's who know firsthand the problems of having kids with ear infections and glue ear. .both are taking part in the trial. It involved the drug being placed into one ear after grommet surgery...the other ear receives a control substance so the difference in the ears can be monitored

Glue Ear can also occur without infections ever being detected - the only sign can be delayed speech in children associated with hearing loss. And that is what makes Glue Ear such a massive problem - a problem researchers at the Telethon Institute for Child Health research hope will one day be in the past.

Further Details

Telethon Institute for Child Research

9489 7777