A new drug to prevent noise-induced hearing loss is currently being trialled at a military base in South Carolina, USA, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Audiologist and researcher Kathleen Campbell is working with the U.S. Army to discover whether a daily pill could protect soldiers from hearing loss. The drug is being tested on soldiers training to be drill sergeants who, over the course of an 11-day training period, will fire an M16 rifle at least 500 times. Each shot registers at a deafening 156 decibels; hearing loss becomes a risk after 85 decibels.
For the study, participating soldiers complete a hearing test before starting their training. They then drink a beverage containing either D-methionine or a placebo before, during and after they train on the shooting range each day. Campbell then tests their hearing again after two weeks.
The drug, known as d-methionine, is an amino acid that can typically be found in meat, fish, and fermented dairy products.
The results of this research are not yet available, but Campbell has previously achieved very promising results when trialling the drug on animals. In a study using chinchillas, which have a remarkably similar hearing range to humans, d-methionine successfully reduced hearing loss in all subjects tested.
Noise-induced hearing loss is a major problem amongst the armed forces, with gunfire, explosives and low flying aircraft taking their toll on the hearing of military personnel. More than 800,000 American veterans receive compensation for hearing-related conditions, costing the U.S. government more than $1 billion each year. In Australia, an estimated 80,000 veterans have hearing issues that can be directly attributed to their time in the Australian Defence Force.
If d-methionine were found to be effective in humans and ultimately given the green light by regulators, its benefits would be felt far beyond the military. Miners, factory workers, musicians, pilots and others who work in loud environments also face high rates of noise-induced hearing loss. This drug could make a huge difference in the lives of many all over the world.