20 June 2000

Project targets quality of life in cancer patients

A University of Queensland researcher has developed a more sensitive and rapid method for detecting hearing loss resulting from the toxic effects of a common chemotherapy drug, cisplatinum.

Lecturer in audiology Dr Ravi Sockalingam is believed to be the first person in the world to apply a new technology called Otoacoustic Emissions in dogs to detect changes in the inner ear as early as four days after chemotherapy.

This compares with hearing assessments performed one to two weeks after chemotherapy using traditional approaches in humans.

Dr Sockalingam's study used dogs as a model, as they also are treated with cisplatinum for cancer, and they also suffer deafness.

The study has the potential for early detection of hearing loss following chemotherapy in humans. "If hearing loss related to the drug can be detected early enough, it can be minimised by adjusting the dosages, while still achieving optimal effects against cancer cells," Dr Sockalingam said.

"Hearing loss is a quality of life issue for patients, while for doctors trying to save them, cancer is a life and death issue which they must first address. This project aims to achieve the best of both worlds."

Dr Sockalingam, of the University's Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology, said a problem had been the use of time-consuming hearing assessment techniques for patients who were already very sick after chemotherapy, so it had been difficult to achieve patient compliance.

The Otoacoustic Emissions technology (known as OAEs), which is a relatively new development used to assess inner ear function, was ideal for the task because cisplatinum affected the inner ear, particularly the hearing of higher frequencies.

"The other advantages of using the technology are that it's objective, very quick, easily employed in the ward, and doesn't require the cooperation of patients to give a result," he said

The project was supervised by Dr Lucio Filippich of the University's Companion Animal Sciences Department. Dr Filippich, an avian expert, has been involved in studies using cisplatinum to treat tumours in cockatoos. Dr Sockalingam was also supervised by Associate Professor Bruce Charles of the School of Pharmacy and Professor Bruce Murdoch, Head of School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences.

Dr Sockalingam and his colleague Dr Joseph Kei are now supervising postgraduate students who are using the new technology and collecting data at the Princess Alexandra and Mater Hospitals.

In collaboration with colleagues both here and at the University of Western Australia (UWA), he is also planning to use a customised OAE system (developed at UWA) in guinea pigs with very high frequencies to 16,000Hz to pick up damage much earlier than previously possible, in his longer term aim of understanding the mechanism of hearing loss resulting from cisplatinum.

Media: Further information, Dr Sockalingam, telephone 07 336 53095, email:r.sockalingam@mailbox.uq.edu.au ,Jan King at UQ Communications 0413 601 248 or email us at: communications@mailbox.uq.edu.au