Bright Idea: Have You Heard?

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Ear infections are conundrums for doctors. Failure to properly treat otitis media — infection of the middle ear — can lead to a permanent loss of hearing. That chilling possibility and the difficulty in making a correct diagnosis often leads doctors to overprescribe antibiotics, which can contribute to drug resistance.

Seattle’s OtoNexus Medical Technologies has developed a patented device that uses ultrasound to recognize otitis media safely, quickly and effectively. A practitioner simply points the Doppler ultrasound device toward the eardrum. The device, which looks and feels like the otoscope traditionally used for ear exams, sends an ultrasound signal that determines if fluid is present behind the eardrum and, if so, what type. In seconds, the doctor can tell if bacteria are present. That information can then help determine whether prescribing antibiotics is appropriate.

Doctors often suggest waiting a day or two to see if a problem resolves before prescribing antibiotics — advice that is understandably unpopular with parents. This new device will eliminate the need to wait, says OtoNexus CEO Caitlin Cameron.

“We have lab proof that it works,” Cameron adds. “Now we just have [to do] the fine tuning.” 

Doppler ultrasound is already used for such tasks as checking the health of an unborn baby. Because of its long safety record, Cameron doesn’t anticipate that OtoNexus will be required to conduct human clinical trials with its device. If trials aren’t needed, Cameron expects the device to reach the market by 2017. Revenue will come from sales of the device itself and the associated one-per-patient safety tips.

Cameron declines to estimate projected revenue, but she describes the potential worldwide market as huge. 

OtoNexus has garnered support from hospitals across the country, including Seattle Children’s, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Boston Medical Center and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. 

“We are in a position to improve outcomes and significantly reduce costs,” Cameron asserts. “That is a special place to be.” 

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