The National Health Service (NHS) is a conglomerate name for the publicly funded health-care system of the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, and Wales). Gentamicin is the first-choice antibiotic if a newborn develops a serious bacterial infection. According to the University of Manchester, approximately 90,000 babies a year in the United Kingdom alone are treated with gentamicin (2018). It is life-saving and safe for the majority of people. However, as we know well, gentamicin and some of its associates (amikacin, tobramycin, etc.) have a negative side effect: damage to the hair cells in the cochlea resulting in permanent sensory hearing loss.
According to the researchers at Manchester, approximately 1,250 babies in England and Wales are born with a subtle change in their genetic code that allows the antibiotic to bind more strongly to the hair cells in their ears. This test, which analyzes babies’ DNA, can quickly spot those who are vulnerable. This means they can be given a different type of antibiotic and avoid having a lifetime of damaged hearing.
The new Genedrive kit analyzes 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.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), which decides which drugs and technologies the NHS uses, has provisionally approved the test. It is hoped that, by using this simple swab test, the risk of hearing loss from gentamicin in babies who have the genetic variant can be avoided.
Hearing Review. (2023) NHS approves test to preserve the hearing of newborns (accessed September 8, 2023).
The University of Manchester. (2018) Test could help avoid antibiotic related deafness in newborn babies (accessed September 8, 2023).
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