The name Tyler Durden will forever be linked to Brad Pitt’s character in the 1999 cult hit Fight Club, which must be tough for a man with that same name who joined the U.S. Army, rose to the rank of Staff Sgt., and is now a drug-testing subject, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Staff Sgt. Tyler Durden and his fellow soldiers have been at the shooting range since 3 a.m. Every few seconds, a piercing shot from an M16 rifle rings out. With sunrise still an hour away, shell casings litter the ground.
The M16 is one of the U.S. Army’s quieter weapons, but that isn’t saying much. For the shooter, shots from the rifle, even if muffled by Army-issue earplugs, register above the noise level hearing experts consider safe. Over 11 days at the range as the soldiers train to become drill sergeants, each will fire an M16 at least 500 times. The Army is worried about hearing loss.
That is why, when the troops line up for breakfast under a tent, Sgt. Durden steps away to see two civilian nurses waiting at the side, who hand him a small bottle. He downs the liquid in one gulp before hurrying back to the breakfast line.
Sgt. Durden is a participant in a clinical trial, one tackling an issue that is both costly and garnering greater awareness in the military: hearing damage. Such damage traces not just to explosive sounds such as an M16 shot—a momentary 155 decibels, far louder than a jackhammer—but also to constant exposure to lesser noise such as that of engines. The trial is testing an experimental drug that might prevent noise-induced hearing loss, in a collaboration between an academic scientist and the military.
If ultimately endorsed by federal regulators, the drug would be the first approved to prevent hearing loss. It could have benefits far beyond the military. Factory workers, miners, loggers, musicians, pilots and others who work in noisy industries face high rates of hearing damage. Globally, a billion teenagers are putting themselves at risk through the din of clubs, concerts and even some sports events, the World Health Organization estimates.
The compound being tested, a liquid form of a micronutrient called d-methionine that is found in cheese and other foods, was developed into a drug by Kathleen C.M. Campbell, an audiologist and professor at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine.
If d-methionine works as Dr. Campbell hopes, the orally-administered drug may help reduce or prevent noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears) for soldiers, recreational shooters, factory workers, and others routinely exposed to loud noises.
D-methione is a micronutrient found in a fermented protein already found in the human diet in dairy food such as yogurt and cheese. Purified and concentrated into an eat-to-take liquid, it beats eating five pounds of cheese to get the same dosage of the micronutrient.
Tinnitus and hearing loss are major service-connected disabilities that costs the government millions in compensation, and there have been prior attempts to find drugs to reverse or prevent the damage. A compound called n-acetylcysteine was previously tested using a group of Marine volunteers, but it had no discernible effect.
If d-methione works, it could be taken in advance of training and drills where loud noises (such as gun shots or artillery fire) are expected, but Dr. Campbell hopes that it might have an effect after people have been exposed to damaging noises as well.
Many recreational shooters suffer from tinnitus or hearing loss after repeated exposure to gunfire, even when using hearing protection. If d-methione works, it could be a welcome relief for millions of shooters… and millions of long-suffering spouses who’ve dealt with years of hearing “what?”