You heard right, silk eardrums closer to reality thanks to funding boost

Media release
22 May 2017

Deakin University and the Ear Science Institute of Australia (ESIA) are a step closer to repairing the painful effects of perforated human eardrums via a silk membrane implant, thanks to a major funding boost that will allow the research partners to take the project to human clinical trials.

The grant, worth just under $4 million, from the UK Wellcome Trust means the research team at Deakin can now finalise the development and specifications of the silk membrane implants and supervise manufacture of the devices to be used in the clinical trials. The trials will be coordinated by ESIA.

Researchers from Deakin’s Institute for Frontier Materials (IFM), Dr Rangam Rajkhowa and Dr Ben Allardyce, have developed the silk-based membrane materials with support of an Australian Research Council Linkage Project and the Council’s new Future Fibres Hub, along with the ESIA.

IFM Director Professor Xungai Wang said the new three-year grant was awarded under the Trust’s Translation Fund, announced in London.

“We are absolutely delighted to have received this important award, which really demonstrates just how vital our research is,” Professor Wang said.

“Up to 330 million people worldwide suffer chronic eardrum perforation as a result of infection, leading to hearing loss.

“The problem is particularly severe for Australian Indigenous children, with research showing 10 per cent of this population group aged up to 14 experiencing ear or hearing problems, compared with three per cent of non-Indigenous children.”

The silk membranes have a number of favourable properties, in that they are thin and able to vibrate like the natural eardrum, they are biocompatible, strong enough to resist inner ear pressure, they biodegrade when the eardrum is regenerated, and are easy to shape and manipulate during surgery.

The clinical trials will demonstrate how the membranes behave in the environment of the middle ear. The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation, which currently spends almost £3 billion on more than 3000 projects worldwide.

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