Researchers at the University of Southern California are pursuing potential new treatments that could bring bring clarity of sound to millions of people who have lost hearing problems. While the loss of hearing affects more than half of all people over the age of 70, that is not the only demographic the problem concerns. Experts anticipate that the number of people suffering from hearing loss could double in only a few decades.
70-year-old Rich Krames is one of the employees of Joslyn Senior Center. While the job requires the ability to keenly discern speech, especially over the phone, Krames’ years of work in the military and factories have taken their toll on that ability. Krames admitted that one factor in his hearing problem was never using headphones or other forms of hearing protection, if only because they were never supplied in his lines of work.
According to the director of the Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience, the passage of sound can be compared to the string between two cups. While the brain’s neurons serve as the string, string succumbs to wear and atrophy. Charles McKenna, a chemist for USC, says that the ears of the elderly are less adept at discerning sounds simply because the neurons have worn down over the years. McKenna says that a new experimental drug is being developed with the express purpose of regenerating vitality to the neurons. He added that while there are compounds known to accomplish such ends, problems arise when addressing a delivery system or a way of tethering them to the inner ear. Because the human ear naturally flushes out impurities, it is a sizable obstacle to delivering medication.
McKenna and his USC colleagues are working on ways of keeping the medication in place. McKenna nicknamed it “bone velcro,” describing it as a molecular anchor that affixes to the bone within the inner ear. He believes that a gel or liquid could be delivered through the ear’s natural opening. McKenna admitted that, despite its promise and great medicinal potential, their research is far from reaching the average consumer due to being so early into trials. People like Krames are nothing but excited at the possibility to hear things as clearly as in their youth. The next step in USC’s research will be animal testing. It is only once results prove promising with animal testing that they will begin clinical trials on humans.