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

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Battle With Islamic State Militants Carries Domestic Risks

Despite Western concerns that IS militants are preparing a Jordanian offensive, analysts call the kingdom's solid intel a strong deterrent More

Asian-Americans Assume Office in Record Numbers

Steadily deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu 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.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Comanche Chief Quanah Parker’s Century-Old House Falling Apart

One of the most fascinating people in U.S. history was Quanah Parker, the last chief of the American Indian tribe, the Comanche. He was the son of a Comanche warrior and a white woman who had been captured by the Indians. Parker was a fierce warrior until 1875 when he led his people to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and took on a new, peaceful life. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Cache, Oklahoma, Quanah’s image remains strong among his people, but part of his heritage is in danger of disappearing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid