Cutting-edge technology could lead to cure for hearing loss

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by Brandy Aguilar, Special projects

azfamily.com

Posted on April 27, 2012 at 9:27 AM

Updated Friday, Apr 27 at 9:41 AM

PHOENIX -- Hearing loss can change a person's life. But new cutting-edge technology could be the hope millions of people who suffer from this condition have been waiting for.

Bryce Faber is like any other Valley fifth-grader. He loves making music and playing sports.

But Bryce isn't like everyone else. He suffered severe hearing loss in both ears at the age of 3 while battling cancer.
 
“At the time he was diagnosed, almost every child that was treated had severe hearing loss because of the experimental regimen that they put kids through,” said Bart Faber, Bryce’s dad.

“And that was hard because you've done everything to save your child's life and then you've left him with a disability,” said Bryce’s mom, Beth Byrnes.

A disability that Bryce’s parents make sure doesn't keep him sitting on the sidelines. To help him communicate, the 11-year-old wears hearing aids and reads lips.
 
“I think he realizes that he has to stay on top of things,” Byrnes said.

“If I didn't wear hearing aids, I wouldn't be getting As and Bs in school,” Bryce said.
 
Bryce also gets a helping hand from his teachers at Phoenix Country Day. They wear a microphone that connects by radio to his hearing aid.
 
“If I'm in class, I have to be close to the front because if I'm further away, I hear by reading lips,” Bryce said.

Bryce has to work twice as hard as anyone else to stay connected. But while he's doing well, there's new hope when it comes to finding a cure for hearing loss.

“We think using a series of different techniques that we will develop the ability to do this where we're entering clinical trials in the coming five or 10 years,” Dr. Robert Jackler said.
 
Jackler is heading up an Initiative to Cure Hearing Loss at Stanford University in California. He and 70 other researchers, including Dr. Stefan Heller, are exploring different methods including stem cell therapy. The hope is to re-grow damaged hair cells within the inner ear, which are necessary to hear.
 
“They can grow in a culture dish and you can expand them and you can trick them into becoming again the sensory cells over the ear that usually does not re-form in a normal animal or human,” Heller said.

“If we're able to restore healthy hearing, we're going to cause a great benefit to a wide variety of people whose lives are diminished today from a lack of inability to communicate effectively,” Jackler said.
 
It's a sign of hope that Bryce and his family have been waiting for.
 
“It would be a great time for him to hear birds sing again and hear rain drops on the roof,” Faber said.
 
“I hate wearing hearing aids, but I know there is hope that I won't have to wear them someday,” Bryce said.
 
Other methods the Stanford team is looking at when it comes to curing hearing loss include gene and molecular therapy.

For more information, visit http://hearinglosscure.stanford.edu.

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