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NHS to use test that prevents babies going deaf

A rapid test that can help preserve the hearing of newborn babies is set to be used by NHS hospitals.

For some babies, commonly used antibiotics can become toxic. The drugs damage sensory cells inside the ear leading to permanent hearing loss.

The test - which analyses babies' DNA - can quickly spot those who are vulnerable. It means they can be given a different type of antibiotic and avoid having a lifetime of damaged hearing.

Gentamicin is the first-choice antibiotic if a newborn develops a serious bacterial infection. It is life-saving and safe for the majority of people.

However, it has a rare side effect. About 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, where it becomes toxic.

These tiny hairs help convert sounds into the electrical signals that are understood by the brain. If they are damaged, it results in hearing loss.

The side effect is well known, but until now there was no test that could get the results fast enough. It would be dangerous to delay treatment, and alternative antibiotics are not used as they have their own side effects and because of concerns about antibiotic resistance.

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.

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Source: BBC News, 9 February 2023


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