More than 30 million Americans are deaf of which causes and severity vary with each person. Some people with hard of hearing use hearing aids to help improve their hearing. But others have to suffer the implications of being deaf, until when no one knows.
“They certainly understand that they’re outsiders in the hearing world, and no matter how good their skills at speaking and lip reading, they may never completely fit in,” writes David Ludden Ph.D.
Almost 80% of the 30 million have the irreversible type deafness. The remaining percentage have a profound hearing loss. These profoundly hearing-impaired persons have few damaged sensory receptors in their ears called hair cells.
Role of Hair Cells
A cochlear implant is surgically placing electrodes into the cochlea. These electrodes bypass hair cells, stimulates the cochlea’s hearing nerve, and transmits the impulses to the brain perceived as sound. This then allows some deaf to comprehend speech without doing lip reading, listen to music, talk to someone on the telephone, and basically, live a normal life.
“Dr. William House surgically inserted the first cochlear implant in 1961. Most considered his idea to tap into a deaf person’s auditory nerve radical and invasive. Today, thousands of formerly deaf patients around the world now have the ability to hear because of cochlear implants,” writes Jeffrey Pickens Ph.D.
Hair Cells Regeneration
New findings show it might be possible to regrow damage hair cells. Each ear has 15,000 hair cells. Exposure to loud noises is what causes it to be irreparably damaged that lead to hearing loss. While other parts of the ear can be repaired when damaged, repair of hair cells has not yet developed. Continuous effort is being made to make this possible. The idea arose when they were able to regrow cells in the intestinal lining. Using the same method, they were able to grow hair cells in mouse cochlea successfully without inducing any drugs. Hair cells grow naturally.
It is fascinating to know that there is hope for the hearing-impaired people to be able to hear again. But even if the research turned out to be successful, not all deaf can benefit from it. It will not work for those with an inherited hearing loss. It is further explained that if a person’s hair cells damage is due to gene mutation no drug yet can fix the problem. Even if they regenerate, they will still be dead hair cells because it will have the same mutation, unless gene mutation is fixed through gene therapy.
Will Gene Therapy Works
Gene therapy is one of the newest research for recovering hearing of the deaf by fixing defective DNAs. Various tests in mice are showing positive results and giving hope to the scientists that it might be the ultimate answer to cure deafness. Gene therapy worked in mice but still needs to be tested to other animals and human cells first before it can be stated that gene therapy is the future for the deaf to be able to hear again.
“Not long ago, this was science fiction. But today, gene editing is possible, and recently it has become much easier with new technologies such as genome sequencing and Crispr. These are helping to develop practical, clinical applications,” writes Marty Nemko Ph.D.
More research and test are still needed to be done to conclude if these hair cells regeneration and gene therapy are the future of those individuals suffering from deafness. More patience, determination, and positivity is needed until such time that doctors can replicate hearing.
It may take more years to perfect these types of newly found ways of recovering hearing, but it is exciting to think that one important discovery of our time may help a lot of people with hearing disabilities.