Worried about that painful ringing in your ears while listening to your favourite tunes? A group of researchers in Singapore are telling you to brace yourself.
Following studies in rats, scientists at the National University of Singapore in collaboration with Sandhurst University have now shown for the first time that almost any type of listening can be done harmlessly.
“Some of the ear implants contain sound-sensitive cancer-killing drugs and no other stimulants,” said Han Gao-Seng, an assistant professor in the department of mechanical engineering at NUS and lead author of the study.
“You don’t need music to get a device to cut off sound. Even parts of brain cells are decoded by sound, making some art shows like Inception accessible. It is hoped that sound implants will one day help profoundly deaf people regain hearing.”
Dyeing the circuit circuit in the ear amplifies sound with a sonic wave, in the same way that the touch tissue in our hands amplifies the texture of cloth. But in effect, Gao-Seng said, “noisier sounds can reach the cells of the inner ear and leave, and in certain models, interfere with signals that help the brain interpret sensations. The technology to develop a system that can repair damaged cells has so far only been studied in animal models.”
An artificial ear containing powerful drugs that can lower the noise a person can pick up in normal ear canals to normal would be the ultimate solution, as the implants can afford much more damage-free hearing.
The study comes shortly after the researchers were also the first to demonstrate that fluorescent protein makes inner ear cells glow. They used an electronic device to test how far sound pressure can hit cells. The idea is to use these devices for humans.
“If an iPod play music loud enough, it can elicit physical changes in the environment. There will be physical damage when worn by someone who can’t hear. But who can test how loud is enough for humans to find themselves in this situation?” Gao-Seng asked.
The devices can also help in business “because workplaces are noisy. Earlier we used a microphone to measure how loud music was when a person works at an office”, he said. “But we think we can improve the machines to detect whether people who work at a restaurant are also wearing music headphones to work.”
The filter in the damaged ear could also open up a new market for film producers keen to film scenes in loud venues.
“Sound machines contain sound processors that can produce a real-time response to a given set of stimuli,” said Gao-Seng. “There is a niche market for this kind of artificial ear – for gamers to preserve hearing and reduce echo. It can also improve the acoustics of stadiums to eliminate human noise.”