Laser ear implants could give deaf people the gift of hearing

Being able to hear is a natural gift nearly everyone takes for granted, except the deaf. Researchers at the University of Utah have discovered that lasers might be the solution to deafness.

Led by Professor Richard Rabbitt, the researchers learned that infrared light pulses beamed into the ear at longer and invisible wavelengths can "make inner-ear hair cells send signals to adjacent nerve cells and then to the brain" thus allowing a wider range of frequencies to be heard by the hearing-disabled. Rabbitt believes that laser implants could have a huge advantage over today's electrical ear implants.

Currently, electrical hearing aids can only provide up to eight frequencies of sound — a very limited range considering the average adult can pick up more than 3,000 frequencies. Using laser implants, Rabbitt says that the deaf could get hundreds or thousands" of sound frequencies — a huge jump up from eight. That's like going from mono to heart-thumping surround sound.

But don't put all your eggs in the basket just yet, these laser ear implants could take anywhere from five to 10 years to become efficient enough to fit into a small hearing aid. Hopefully along the way, someone figures out how to modify them for a super secret spy receiver.

CORRECTION:: This story previously stated the researchers were from the University of Washington, but are they are actually from the University of Utah. Dr. Rabbitt also has a lab at the famous Woods Hole Marine Biological Lab in MA.

University of Utah News Center, via Engadget

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