The Technology That Lets Deaf People Hear Could Also Treat Hearing Damage

Rachel Feltman | Quartz | April 23, 2014

When someone’s auditory nerve is damaged, a cochlear implant acts as a substitute for the lack of vital nerve cells. But one day, it turns out, the implants could help those cells regrow. Gary Housley, director of the Translational Neuroscience Facility at the University of New South Wales, has published a study (paywall) demonstrating the process in animal models.

A standard cochlear implant works by picking up sound in an external microphone, processing it on a tiny computer that rests behind the ear, and then transmitting it to a surgically implanted receiver that converts the sound to electrical pulses. These signals are sent to different regions of the auditory nerve, allowing the deaf to experience a representation of sounds around them. But while these allow a deaf person to understand speech without lipreading, pitch perception remains poor, and the sounds aren’t lifelike (you can listen to an approximation of them here).

But after five years of development, Housley and his colleagues have tweaked a cochlear implant to deliver an effective treatment for deafness as well...