23 April 2009

Tuning the ear to restore hearing

Scientists believe it possible to tune the cochlea so that sound bi-passes damaged parts. But the surgical procedure to turn this new theory into practice has yet to be developed.

The theoretic possibility of restoring hearing in a re-tuned cochlea is described by scientists from Switzerland and South Africa in a scientific journal. The idea is to let functioning parts of the cochlea take over the sound processing from damaged parts.

Re-tuning of healthy parts of cochlea

Injury to the cochlea is a common cause of hearing loss. The damage may be done by infections, medications, acoustic trauma and aging. Whatever the cause, the resulting damage affects the ability to detect sounds in certain frequencies, such as the frequencies of human speech. The hearing loss appear as holes in the normal frequency range.

These holes may be closed by re-tuning healthy parts of the cochlea to make them able to receive and process sounds that would normally be processed by the damaged areas. The team of Swiss and South African researchers believes that their bio-physical model of a cochlea has proven that this is feasible.

Still just a theory

The model describes the relationship between the sound perception and the bio-physical parameters of the cochlea. According to the analysis carried out by the researchers, changing the bio-physical parameters of the cochlea can plug the holes in the tonal perception. The microsurgical procedure needed to turn the new theory into practice is yet to be developed.

Sources: www.ploscompbiol.org; www.topnews.in

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