I've got it, and I'll be watching this close to see how it works out. If this is works out it will do a lot for those who spent a career in the military where tinnitus is for most an occupational hazard.
Loud, concussive explosions on the battlefield may last only a few seconds, but many soldiers returning from combat in the Middle East are experiencing lingering symptoms that cause them to perceive sounds even when it is quiet. Doctors can do little to treat the problem—typically described as a ringing in the ears—because they lack an effective way of delivering medication to the inner ear. That could change in a few years, in the form of an implantable polymer-based microscale drug-release system that delivers medicine to the inner ear.
Called tinnitus, the condition afflicts at least one in every 10 American adults and is the most common disability among Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Up to 40 percent of all veterans may be suffering from tinnitus, and the VA spends about $1 billion annually on disability payments for tinnitus, according to a study published last year in Nature. (Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group.)
To address the problem, the U.S. Department of Defense has commissioned Draper Laboratory in Cambridge, Mass., to spend the next year fleshing out a concept for a small delivery device inserted near the membrane-covered window—no more than three millimeters in diameter—separating the middle ear from the inner ear. Once at the membrane the device (essentially a polymer capsule, although Draper is not developing any of medicines that might be placed inside) would release a drug into the cochlea, the tubular organ residing in the inner ear that enables us to hear. The plan is to embed wireless communications into the capsule so that a patient or doctor can control the dosage. After the capsule finishes delivering its supply of drugs, it would dissolve.