Scientists develop method to help regain hearing

August 29th, 2008 - 1:27 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Aug 29 (IANS) Swiss and South African scientists have outlined a method to potentially overcome hearing defects, even remedying substantial hearing loss. The method could help restore functional regions of the damaged ear to be able to recognise frequencies originally associated with them.

Existing hearing-aid and cochlear implant technology have only been partially successful in recreating the experience of the fully functioning ear.

A possible reason for the lack of success could be because the cochlea - the hearing sensor - must be fully embedded into the corto-cochlear feedback loop.

While recent artificial cochleas have been developed that are almost as good as their biological counterparts, the integration of artificial cochleas into this loop is an extremely difficult micro-surgical task.

In an attempt to overcome this problem, the scientists investigated the biophysics and bio-mechanics of the natural sensor. Their findings were published Friday in the open-access journal PLoS Computational Biology.

They have identified modifications that would enable the remapping of frequencies where the cochlea malfunctions. This is done in such a way that no auditory information is lost and the tuning capabilities of the cochlea can be fully utilised.

Their findings indicate that realistic modifications could remedy even substantial hearing loss. Moreover, with a recently designed electronic cochlea at hand, the changes in the perception of hearing could be predicted.

Recently developed lasers could play a prominent role in these surgical procedures, similar to their role in correcting deficits for another important human sensor, the eye.

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