UCL News


Gene fault increases antibiotic risk

5 February 2009

Doctors from the

UCL Institute of Child Health ucl.ac.uk/ich" target="_self">UCL Institute of Child Health (UCL ICH) have published research confirming that antibiotics used in some hospital settings seriously damage the hearing of children with a relatively common genetic mutation.

The research, published in the current issue of the 'New England Journal of Medicine', demonstrates how some children who inherit a mitochondrial mutation can suffer from loss of hearing when administered aminoglycoside antibiotics, even in low doses. Used to treat gram-negative sepsis (blood poisoning), these antibiotics are known to have damaging effects on hearing and kidney function and are closely monitored when used.

The study aimed to identify a mutation prevalence of 1:500 in a largely Caucasian population of children. Prevalence rates in non-Caucasian populations are not known.

Drs Maria Bitner-Glindzicz and Shamima Rahman (UCL ICH), the lead authors of the study, said:

"These antibiotics are widely used on very sick children. They are cheap and effective. We believe that it will be cost effective to genetically screen groups of patients who will almost certainly receive aminoglycoside antibiotics, to see if they carry the mutation, before administering the antibiotics. This will allow an alternative antibiotic to be given to anyone who has the mutation."

Pre-natal screening of mothers, they added, would be of benefit in matters of clinical urgency when there is no time to undertake genetic testing. This is especially the case in neonatal units where babies in intensive care need quick administration of drugs.

The study highlights a need to re-evaluate the professional guidelines of doctors and health advice given to families.


UCL Context: UCL Institute of Child Health
UCL is the leading British academic research institution for child health. Established in 1945, it aims to improve the health and wellbeing of children through world-class research, education and public engagement. Research is carried out in seven main themes: biochemical and nutritional sciences; cancer; cardiorespiratory sciences; genes, development and diseases; infection and immunity; neurosciences and mental health; and population health sciences.