News / Health

Deafness 'Cure' is a Goal for Science

Peter Fedynsky

The New York Academy of Medicine recently (October 3) hosted a research summit sponsored by the Hearing Health Foundation to promote a cure for deafness caused by damaged hair cells in the ear.  An estimated 37 million Americans suffer some form of hearing loss, including a Broadway composer who is coping with profound deafness.

This clashing and crashing percussion music is the work of Jay Alan Zimmerman, a New York composer with significant hearing loss who has been dubbed "Broadway's Beethoven."  The piece, entitled "Roboticus," is about a man who upgrades his natural body with artificial parts to become a robot.

"That is the choice I am facing: Do I get a cochlear implant and become a bionic man?  If it gave me better than normal hearing, I would grab it," said Zimmerman.

Zimmerman has no diagnosis for the condition that turned his world into a muddle of sound more than 10 years ago.  He supplements that muddle through lip reading.  He also relies on light as a complement to his music.  Zimmerman says his hearing problem may involve damage to the minute sensors in the ear known as hair cells that transmit audio signals to the brain.  

Though the electronic device known as a cochlear implant improves hearing, it does not allow for appreciation of music or all of the richness of sound.  Zimmerman prefers to wait for scientists to find a way of regenerating hair cells.  Researchers gained a valuable insight from an unexpected source.

Dr. Mark Warchol of the Washington University School of Medicine explains what chickens have brought to hearing research.

"The avian ear has this remarkable ability to regenerate sensory receptors after injury," noted Warchol.  "Deafening a bird, for example, turns out to be a very temporary thing.  Within several weeks, all of the dead sensory cells, damaged sensory cells, will be replaced by new cells."

Unlike chickens, humans cannot replace sensory cells lost to aging, toxicity or loud noise.

Researchers at this week's Hearing Restoration Project summit at the New York Academy of Medicine noted the human body does have the capacity to restore skin cells, cells in the digestive tract and in a damaged liver.  Dr. Andrew Groves of the Baylor School of Medicine says scientists are trying to apply that capacity to more complicated sensory cells.

"You can break the problem down into two simple processes," added Warchol.  "One is if you want to repair something, you have to make more cells; the cells have to divide.  So understanding what tells a cell to start dividing and then to stop at the appropriate time is really important."

But researchers say that "simple" problem may take 10 years to solve and tens of millions of dollars to fund the effort.

At this point, Jay Alan Zimmerman is declining surgical treatment while he waits for a cure.  In the meantime, he says he will continue writing musicals and performing his own compositions for theater.

You May Like

US Imposes Sanctions on Alleged Honduran Drug Gang

Treasury department alleges Los Valles group is responsible for smuggling tens of thousands of kilograms of cocaine into US each month More

At 91, Marvel Creator Stan Lee Continues to Expand his Universe

Company's chief emeritus hopes to interest new generation of children in superheroes of all shapes and sizes by publishing content across multiple media platforms More

Photogallery New Drug Protects Against Virus in Ebola Family

Study by researchers at University of Texas Medical Branch, Tekmira Pharmaceuticals is first looking at drug's effectiveness after onset of symptoms More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebolai
X
George Putic
August 20, 2014 8:57 PM
While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls For Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid