Three weeks ago, I was assigned a project about Alexander Graham Bell’s life and the invention of the telephone. Yet, I was more intrigued by his mother. Which is a bit odd right? You’re more intrigued by Alexander Graham Bell’s mother than the actual inventor of the telephone.
But what if I told you that she was deaf? Or that she was the inspiration and main reason for the invention of the telephone? She was a very special person in his life.
I remember thinking “Man, he must’ve grown up without his mom. That must have been awful not being able to talk to her.” After closer scrutiny of the situation, I realized something that shook me. I was biased.
Now, I always look at others who are racist and sexist and shake my head. How can someone in this age discriminate against someone because of something they can’t help nor change?
In reality, many factors could cause someone to have a bias. These include cultural conditioning, media portrayals, and upbringing. Even things like microaggressions can contribute to that bias.
I was crushed emotionally. I was scared that I became the kind of person that refuses privilege to someone else.
Though this isn’t what this article is about, it did inspire me to look a bit deeper into deafness…and what we’re doing to reverse it.
Eliza was really important to Alexander. He didn’t pity her, in fact, he admired her for the opposite reasons. Eliza did everything in her power to make sure that Alexander had a mother to rely on and talk to no matter what disabilities she had.
Though they couldn’t speak orally, they’d write notebooks worth of conversation, all on paper. She was always there to support him and Alexander wanted to help people like her. Hence the telephone.
Yeah! The telephone was originally meant to be a device that helps the deaf communicate. Crazy! Though that went in the other direction and only the hearing can use it, there are companies currently working on reversing hearing loss in other ways.
There are many ways someone could be affected by hearing loss and here are just a few ways:
Damage to the Inner Ear
This type of hearing loss one is generally irreversible so early diagnosis is crucial.
Ageing and loud noises can cause damage to the hairs and nerve cells in the cochlea that send sound signals to the brain. When the hairs or nerves are missing or damaged, the signals aren’t transmitted as well and hearing loss is caused. High-toned pitches or tones may become muffled or non-existent and it becomes difficult to interpret sounds through background noises.
Buildup of Earwax
Earwax helps with a lot of things like preventing debris, dirt and other things from entering your body through the ear canal. Sometimes, it builds up and can block the conduction of soundwaves. Earwax removal is a quick fix for this cause.
Ear Infection and Abnormal Bone Growths or Tumours
Ear infections can cause build-ups of fluid that limit the movement of the eardrum and the tiny bones that help us hear. Tumours can cause pressure on those very important nerves that we need to hear.
Ruptured eardrum (tympanic membrane perforation) is caused by loud blasts of noise, sudden changes in pressure (like quickly going from the top of a deep pool to the bottom), poking your eardrum with an object and an infection.
Now, we get into the exciting stuff. How are we going to solve this hearing loss problem? We currently have ways to treat three out of those 4 causes of hearing loss. Unfortunately, the most irreversible one is the one that doesn’t yet have a concrete treatment.
A company called Frequency Therapeutics is looking to change that. They are using regenerative medicine to regrow the essential nerves and hairs to recover someone’s hearing. It’s really incredible!
Frequency Therapeutics focuses on sensorineural hearing loss. That is when damage to the inner ear (nerves and hairs) is caused. It is the cause of 90% of hearing loss in adults. So, how will regenerative medicine solve this problem?
Regenerative medicine is a very interesting process used to regrow, repair or replace damaged cell structures. Stem cells are cells that can turn into any other human cell from muscle cells to brain cells.
We have learned to use this system to our benefit. Using progenitor cells (cells programmed to create specialized cell types) to regrow those nerves and hairs, we can cure deafness. Incredible how we’ve come so far!
Frequency Therapeutics is doing everything they can to solve the problem of deafness and they’re getting pretty far. One day, this treatment will become widespread and all the people currently living with hearing loss can hear a bird chirp or the voice of a loved one after a long age of silence, maybe even for the first time.