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RNID funded research leads to new NHS test

As reported across the UK national media this morning a rapid test that can help preserve the hearing of newborn babies is set to be used by NHS hospitals.

RNID helped kick start this breakthrough, by funding a pilot project back in 2016, and we wouldn’t have been able to do this without your support.

What has the research found?

For some babies, commonly used antibiotics such as gentamicin can cause hearing loss. Babies admitted to intensive care are usually given gentamicin within 60 minutes, but although the antibiotic is used to safely treat about 100,000 babies a year, one in 500 babies carry a gene that can make it cause permanent hearing loss.

The new test which analyses babies’ DNA can quickly identify those babies which are at risk of hearing loss from gentamicin, so they can be given a different antibiotic. It has been estimated that the new test could save the hearing of 200 babies in England alone every year.

How does gentamicin damage hearing?

Currently, gentamicin is used for newborn babies who develop a serious bacterial infection. It is life-saving and safe for the majority of people, however a small number of babies are born with a subtle change in their genetic code that means their hair cells are at risk of damage by the antibiotic.

These tiny hair cells convert sounds into electrical signals. If they are damaged, it causes hearing loss. This side effect is well known, but until now there was no test that could get the results fast enough to show which babies are at risk.

The new genedrive kit analyses a sample taken from inside the baby’s cheek. Tests at two neonatal intensive care units in Manchester and Liverpool showed it could spot who was susceptible to hearing loss in 26 minutes, and using it did not delay treatment.

Next steps

We are pleased that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) – which decides which drugs and technologies the NHS uses – has provisionally approved the new test.

The test will now be made available as part of an early assessment in a range of hospitals, to consider how well it works and what impact it has on antibiotic use, before it gets final approval.

What does RNID think?

Ralph Holme, Director of Research and Insight at RNID said;

“RNID and our supporters are delighted to see this research, which we helped to kickstart, lead to a simple test which can save the hearing of hundreds of babies a year, and we are pleased that the test has now been provisionally approved by NICE.

We look forward to the next steps as this test is rolled out to a range of hospitals, and eagerly anticipate all babies having access to this important test as soon as possible.”

We need your support

Hearing loss research is hugely underfunded. Only 83p is spent on research for each person with hearing loss, compared to £16 spent on research per person living with sight loss. Help us give hope for a better future today.
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