News Stories

Finally: A Cure for Deafness?

Deafness is a complex subject?some deaf people insist that it is not a disease that needs to be cured. But since many of our soldiers are coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan deaf, this news couldn't have come at a better time. Did you know that your cell phone may be affecting your hearing? And do we know what dinosaurs heard?

Researchers have discovered a way to transfer genes, which they hope will restore hearing, into diseased tissue of the human inner ear. This important step brings scientists closer to curing genetic or acquired hearing loss.

Hair cells have hair-like projections that line the cochlea. In people with normal hearing, hair cells convert sound into electrical signals, which are ultimately transmitted to the brain. People with hearing loss suffer from too few, damaged or missing hair cells.

Neuroscientist Jeffrey Holt Dr. Bradley Kesser, a specialist in hearing loss, have targeted a gene known as KCNQ4, which causes genetic hearing loss in humans when it is mutated. They engineered a correct form of the gene and created a gene therapy delivery system that successfully transferred the KCNQ4 gene into human hair cells harvested from the inner ears of patients with hearing loss. In other words, they changed the mutant gene into a normal gene and restored these deaf people's hearing.

Hold the phone?long-term use of a cell phone may cause inner ear damage and can lead to high frequency hearing loss. A new study shows that people who had used mobile phones for over a year suffered increases in the degree of hearing loss over the span of 12 months. Furthermore, the study also discovered that people who used their phones for more than 60 minutes a day had a worse hearing threshold than those with less use.

High frequency hearing loss is characterized by the loss of ability to hear consonants such as s, f, t, and z, even though vowels can be heard normally. Consequently, people hear sounds but cannot make out what is being said.

Researchers warn users of cell phones to look out for ear symptoms such as ear warmth, ear fullness, and ringing in the ears (tinnitus) as early warning signs that you may have an auditory abnormality. They also suggest the use of earphones, which they found to be safer than holding a mobile phone up to the ears.

What did dinosaurs hear? Probably a lot of low frequency sounds, like the heavy footsteps of another dinosaur. What they probably couldn't hear were the high pitched sounds that birds make.

Dinosaurs had a similar ear structure to their descendants, including birds and crocodiles. Researcher Robert Dooling says, "The best guess is that dinosaurs were probably somewhat similar to some of the very large mammals of today, such as the elephants, but with poorer high frequency hearing than most mammals of today. As a general rule, animals can hear the sounds they produce. Dinosaurs probably also could hear the footsteps of other dinosaurs very well. Elephants, for instance, are purported to be able to hear, over great distances, the very low frequency infrasound generated by the footsteps of other elephants." (Do elephants communicate in other ways as well)?

Dooling says, "?As humans age in our noisy environment, we begin to lose our hearing at high frequencies. So, in a sense, our hearing becomes more like that of the dinosaurs."

Art credit: freeimages.co.uk

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