Immune Dysfunction in Childhood Otitis Media Study

Most children will have at least one ear infection in their first few years - typically when they are very young. The majority get better without any additional treatment, however some unfortunately get these infections again and again which sometimes requires treatment with long-term antibiotics or surgery. Occasionally as a result of infection thick fluid can build up behind the ear drum and cause hearing loss. This can have negative impacts on language development and learning, and is again a common reason for children to undergo an operation. At the moment it is not very well understood why some children who are otherwise apparently healthy get these recurring ear infections or build up of thick fluid which is not automatically removed. This is what we are hoping to understand better through our research.

Our research at the moment is focussed on the role adenoids play in these conditions. Adenoids are a normal part of the body and are found at the back of the nose. They are situated very close to a tube which connects the nose and the ear (Eustachian tube). They are one of the first sites in the body exposed to bugs which are breathed in, and are known to have important infection-fighting cells. We are interested in looking at the different kinds of infection fighting cells in the adenoids in different groups of ear conditions to see how the two are related.

Additionally, in order to better understand the relationship between the ear cells and any bugs which cause ear infections we are also in the process of developing a ‘disease in a dish’ model of ear infections. We can then use this system to see how the body’s own cells fight infection when exposed to dangerous bugs, and how this is altered by the presence of the thick fluid which often builds up in the ear after a bad infection. We hope that by understanding this process better we will open the way to developing new treatments for these ear conditions which, ideally, will reduce the need for surgery.