Anti-stroke Drug May Combat Ear Infections

Jun. 12, 2015

An anti-stroke drug may be effective in treating ear infections, according to a joint study by researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center and Georgia State University.

The study, published recently in the Journal of Immunology, showed that topical administration of the anti-inflammatory compound Vinpocetine prevented ear infection-related hearing loss in animals by decreasing the bacterial load and bacteria-related mucus overproduction in the middle ear.

Doctor examining infant's earMiddle ear infection is the most common bacterial infection in children. It is usually caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae and nontypeable Haemophilus influenzae which induce rampant overproduction of mucins, small particles that make up mucus, in the middle ear. The overproduced mucus then causes conductive hearing loss by impairing movement of the tiny bones that help us detect sound. Children with frequent ear infections are at increased risk for speech and language disabilities if they experience hearing loss during critical developmental periods.

Antibiotics have been the main treatment for ear infection for many years, but overuse has led to the increased occurrence of antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains that cannot be killed by traditional antibiotics. The risk of side effects and the increase in antibiotic resistance has left patients, families and physicians looking for new treatment options.

“What I think is most important is that we can use [Vinpocetine] topically. It not only reduced the mucus in our mouse model, it also has some anti-bacterial or bacterial clearance effects,” said Chen Yan, Ph.D., associate professor in the Aab Cardiovascular Research Institute at the University of Rochester Medical Center and co-senior author of the study. “We hope in the future that just by topical use we can effectively treat the disease and we won’t need antibiotics.”

Vinpocetine is available as a dietary supplement with little to no signs of toxicity or negative side effects in adults, but its safety has yet to be tested in children. Li and Yan are hopeful that Vinpocetine will be available for wider therapeutic use to treat a host of inflammatory diseases in humans in the future. However, further research is needed to ensure that the effects they found in animals will translate to humans.  


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