Component of aspirin prevents antibiotic-induced deafness

Active component of aspirin prevents antibiotic-induced deafness, say U-M scientists. Clinical trial under way in humans.

ANN ARBOR---University of Michigan scientists have found that salicylate---the active component of ordinary aspirin---can prevent deafness in guinea pigs exposed to a common class of antibiotics that destroy delicate hair cells in the inner ear. Results of the study are published in the July 1999 issue of the journal Laboratory Investigation.

A clinical trial currently under way at a hospital in Xi'an, China, will determine whether aspirin is as effective in people as it is in guinea pigs, according to Jochen Schacht, Ph.D., a biochemist in the otolaryngology department of the U-M Medical School and a consultant on the clinical trial.

Discovered in the 1940s, aminoglycosides---which include streptomycin, gentamicin, neomycin and others---are the most widely used antibiotics in the world even though they are known to cause hearing loss and balance disorders in a significant percentage of individuals who take them.

"These drugs are a serious problem in rural areas of developing countries, especially China and Southeast Asia, where they are widely used because they are so effective and inexpensive," Schacht said. "All too frequently, they are the only affordable drugs available. Studies of deaf-mutism in southeastern China showed that two-thirds of the cases were caused by aminoglycosides."

In the United States and other industrialized countries, aminoglycosides are most often used to treat people with serious infections who have not responded to other antibiotics. "The increasing worldwide threat of antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis in the wake of AIDS, however, makes it likely that their use will increase in the future," Schacht added.

After years of research, Schacht and his colleagues reported in 1995 that gentamicin combines with iron in the body to trigger production of free radicals---unstable mo

Contact: Sally Pobojewski
University of Michigan

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