Friday, 2 May, 2014
Cartoon about hearing research



In 2006, the ever amazing Dr. Stefan Heller  – amazing because of his remarkable pioneering role in research into a cure for deafness –  predicted that we would reverse hearing loss in an animal. He said it would take about five years. Five years later, hearing loss was reversed in a mouse model. Eerily accurate but MISTER ScienceAintSoBad wasn’t surprised. Heller knows his stuff. He’s been at the forefront of this field since it began. (He is at Stanford University’s School of Medicine). 

Where do things stand now? It’s been two and a half years since the first mouse was “cured” of deafness and already we have human trials. In about two months, a human trial will actually begin for adults. Dr. Hinrich Straeker  (University of Kansas Medical Center) will be in charge. His team will insert a gene (the Atoh1 gene) into the ears of the volunteers. The Athoh1 gene is involved in supporting the “microphone of the inner ear” (hair cells). It worked for mice. They had, on average, about a 20 db improvement in hearing. It would be nice if it worked that well for people. Novertis (the pharma company) is partnering on the research. 

There’s also a study  gearing up at Childrens Memorial Hermann Hospital in Texas which is aimed at kids. Dr. Samer Fakhri, is the lead. Stem cells taken from cord blood will be used. This is a  phase 1 (make sure nothing bad happens) study –  an important step.

Just about everything I read about this stuff contains a don’t-get-your-hopes-up warning reminding us that it could take  years – decades probably – before you see anything like a cure for deafness.

You know what? That’s fine. But I love the fact that we have finally reached the point where human studies have begun. If we can somehow increase the meager trickle of funds that supports this research, maybe we can speed things up even more. Spending on hearing loss research is very efficient. You get a lot for your dollar. Graduate student researchers are cheap.

Dr. Heller tells me his “naive dream” is to develop a way to get  funding direct from individuals – grass roots funding, as he calls it –  where “every person suffering from hearing loss would gives $5 – $10.  That would be huge,” he says, “because, right now, almost everything comes from  just two institutions, the Stanford Initiative To Cure Hearing Loss  and The Hearing Restoration Project. And the available funds are very limited. Ten dollars to either of these instutions would make a big difference.”

MISTER ScienceAintSoBad would sincerely appreciate it if you would ask your friends to give. It’s a great cause.


Even better .  let’s establish – this is Stefan’s idea too – a major research center. The laboratories where much of this work takes place are scattered. Why not relocate them  into a a single hearing research center,  intensifying and focusing the effort of several individual labs? A donation from a private benefactor (or more) could make this happen. With interest rates this low, what are you going to do with all your unproductive investment dollars anyway? Can you think of anything that could change more lives?

A large segment of the population – especially the elderly – live with the world “turned off” because they can’t hear anymore. With your generous help, that can change.

– – – – – –

The drawing is mine (He look better in real life).


Edging Toward A Cure For Hearing Loss And Deafness

Thursday, 7 May, 2009


Funny photo about hearing loss

A Scientific Genius Who Don’t Hear So Good

“I hope that in five years, we are at a point that we can say that it is possible to cure deafness, at least in an animal.” Dr. Stefan heller. August 7, 2006

Stick your fingers in your ears. Both of them. Can you hear your cell phone ring? Is the guy on CNBC saying “vrumph, vrumph, vrumph?”
It’s called “hearing loss”. 
I’ve had “fingers stuck in my ears” for years. And there are invisible fingers lusting for your ears too. About 10% of the population has hearing problems. If you stick around long enough, it’ll probably happen to you. More than half of “seniors” are affected by this annoying and, often, disabling thing.
If the gills of our swimming ancestors hadn’t evolved into the ears of homo sapiens, we wouldn’t have developed speech. No point in talking if you can’t hear the words. And, without speech, we humans could still stand up straight and could still throw rocks. But it wouldn’t be quite the same, would it? So imagine how disappointing it is to discover that our wonderful and much taken for granted ears wear out! In fact, they are SO delicate! A good thumping beat at a high volume slowly and inexorably grinds up our gears. It’s like your mother said, “Turn down the damn VOLUME before we BOTH go deaf!”
You may remember from biology class, that the ear has a cochlea that looks like the spirals of a sea shell. Inside this cochlea are hair cells (“stereocillia”) on a membrane. They’re made of actin, the same stuff that makes mucles flex. When sound waves wash over the hair cells, they’re bent back and forth, converting mechanical motion into electrical signals for the nervous system.
This structure, the cochlea, tantalizes researchers. Obviously, this is where the action is. But, because of its location in the body, it’s hard to study. The size of the hair cells, a few hundredths of a millimeter in width, doesn’t help much either. But it is these delicate cells that are complicit in the most common type of deafness: age-related hearing loss (presbycusis). Once damaged, they’re gone forever. It’s this sad fact that explains why most of us adults are slowly, slowly losing our high frequency hearing. Or worse.
Image is from 29th edition, Gray’s Anatomy via Wikipedia Commons and, ultimately, from Wikipedia article on the inner ear.
In the modern era, some hearing problems can be addressed with surgery or by removing impacted ear wax. Leaches, ear candling, aldosteron, B12, folic acid, and hypnosis are all in there somewhere too. But there doesn’t seem to be much you can do about the slow drip-drip-drip of age-related hearing loss except go find yourself a hearing aid (see rant below). 
HOWEVER, in the 1980’s, it was discovered that hair cells in the ears of birds DO regenerate. Sensational news! 
As the scientific world discovered the potential of stem cells which can differentiate into all kinds of things, researchers, such as Stefan Heller of Stanford University, began to look for connections. In 2002, Dr. Heller, then at Harvard, discovered that stem cells are present in the inner ear of human beings, suggesting that there’s a latent potential for regeneration of hair cells. One of his goals is to develop a drug that can be introduced into the ear as an ear drop. 
I don’t mind admitting that he’s one of my heroes. In this video, he describes what he’s up to. 
Headlines can be heartbreakers. I like science. Why ELSE would I write about it? But headlines like Cell Transplants May Cure Deafness and Cultivated Ear Cells May Lead To Cure For Deafness raise hopes only to crush them again under the cruel heel of “maybe” and “someday”. These breakthroughs ARE important steps and MAY lead to a cure. But, not to be cynical, they’re more likely to lead to another round of grants for the lab. I guess that’s a TERRIBLE way to introduce this section because there IS a lot of great science being done:
The role of neurotrophins, chemicals that bathe the auditory nerve, is being worked out by Robin Davis, Professor of Cell Biology and Neuroscience, Rutgers.
Dr. Karen Avraham, Department of Human Molecular Genetics, Sackler School of Medicine, Tel Aviv University, has shown that “microRNAs” can be responsible for hair cell death. Link. If I understand this right, it’s an exciting insight for people who’s hearing starts to go at a younger age. The therapy would involved inserting microRNAs directly. Science now. Medicine later. Maybe.  
Hair cells are kept “tuned up” by certain proteins. Knowing how this happens seems to be another important step in understanding what can go wrong. Very interesting and very basic. 
Helge Rask-Anderson, Professor of Experimental Otology, Uppsala University, is studying growth of stem cells and trying to find ways to coax them into the right places with electromagnetic fields. Cool!
Marcelo Rivolta of the University of Sheffield is working with human ear cells created in the lab with foetal cells. 
Work in Itay with stem cells from human umbilical cored blood. Link
What’s wrong with hearing aids? Don’t get me started!
WHAT a disconnect between the wearer, often elderly or very young, and a device which is easily damaged and high maintenance! Good ones are expensive, rarely covered by medical plans, and are often uncomfortable. And you gotta be SO good to use these things right. Choosing the right one, inserting it right, maintaining it, keeping it free of wax and knowing what to do under which conditions, dealing with telecoils and various “program settings”, manipulating tiny controls in crazy places. This is hard stuff. And I’m a Biomedical Engineer! No wonder so many hearing aid users give up. 
Knowing when they’re on the fritz and need a trip to the audiologist might SEEM like the easy part. But it isn’t. The changes in hearing may be gradual and hearing isn’t as obvious as sight. Maybe your spouse is mumbling.And getting caught in the rain or forgetting to remove them before showering can destroy an investment of thousands of dollars.
Even IF your’re really good at all this stuff, hearing aids just don’t bring you all the way back. Not even the best of them. It ain’t like the old days. The High Fi’s gone.
But they help. And I don’t mean to be ungracious.


Sunday, 15 April, 2012




You’ve read about fusion energy.

Energy that is plentiful and cheap.

It uses water as fuel. No pollution. No global warming. No uranium. No meltdowns.

Energy like it’s made in the stars where the nuclei of atoms are fused together.

Sadly, discussions about energy these days tend to describe fusion power as too “out there”, too “not in your lifetime”.

But what if..


Eric Lerner is the head of Lawrenceville Plasma Physics in new Jersey. It’s a small private lab.

Lerner put out a press release about how his company has advanced the “containment problem”.

Fusion reactions – think stars and hydrogen bombs – are  rough on any devices you try to put them in so they have to be contained in electromagnetic “bottles” to keep the incredibly corrosive plasma out of contact with the walls of the machine. Lerner says his lab has succeeded with containment at the highest temperature ever.

And not mere containment. Lawrenceville Plasma wasn’t happy with just beating mainstream scientists at their own game. Lerner’s team beat them with a technology that has been written off as impractical – a type of fusion that doesn’t produce any dangerous neutrons  – aneutronic fusion.  The process is safe as yogurt.

But safe doesn’t necessarily light  lamps.

I checked the nightly news: NBC, ABC, FOX? They missed Lerner’s announcement. There’s been an incredible lack of coverage. Nothing in the New York Times.  Nothing,  even  in The Good 5-Cent Cigar, the student newspaper at the University of Rhode Island.

Fishy? You’re thinking this was some self promotional deal that MisterScienceAintSoBad fell for?

Google it. Go ahead, I dare you. There’s nothing but praise for Lerner’s accomplishment. Online, this seems as solid as the theory of gravity. (In fact, the gravity thing  has some detractors on the far right and the far left).

Isn’t that TOO much praise for Lawrenceville Plasma Physics? Shouldn’t we worry? Normally, everybody’s a critic. The President may have been born in Kenya. The Queen of England’s a commie. Where did Lerner get HIS teflon? Shouldn’t there be some doubters asking how this small private lab, with a trickle of funding,  made an end run around the big players? Shouldn’t some be  questioning the authenticity of the report?

MisterScienceAintSoBad has seen this type of thing before. Remember the Mysterious Case of Chloe Sohl? As with the Chloe Sohl case, something didn’t sound right. If there’s a big breakthrough in fusion energy, it’s hot news, right?  Why is the mainstream press missing in action? Why does this breakthrough only show up  when I Google (or Bing or whatever)?

What gives?


The Internet is an open place. Information can be manipulated.

How? Maybe scam artists plant phony praise for certain “events”. So much so that it overwhelms everything else. Maybe they screw with Wikipedia articles.  Maybe they forge authoritative  recommendations. It would be nice to understand how this all works so you could know when you’re being played. For now, let me just remind you that if it seems too good to be true it probably is too good to be true.


In this case, there were hints.

Lerner had written a book about the big bang – The Big Bang Never Happened. In his book, he says that the physics world is wrong about the “big bang”.

Here’s the thing.

It could be Lerner, with his bachelors degree in physics, who’s wrong. And the entire community of scientists from Einstein to Hubble might possibly be right.

You never know.

Another hint. Lerner, in his press release, speaks matter of factly about cooperating with Iran in this vital area.


Was that a misprint? Did he mean Uranus? Isn’t Iran our mortal enemy? The future of energy now lies with a hands-across-the-ocean project between Iranian and US scientists?

Lerner says Iranian and American scientists want an alternative to the current conflict.

.. a scientific and engineering collaboration between the two countries that could, if successful, make uranium enrichment obsolete, block proliferation everywhere, liberate the world from oil, and open up a new source of cheap, clean unlimited energy. 

And, unbelievably, the New York Times missed THAT one?

Now Lerner has caught out the rest of the science guys again. The billions  that are being spent on nuclear fusion? What a waste! His company’s Focus Fusion 1 research instrument has achieved the highest temperature magnetic containment ever recorded. And on a shoestring. One more (giant) step to go for Lerner’s group. Then, ITER, the world’s most advanced nuclear fusion project, will become a useless relic.

Lerner’s achievement has met with silence from the establishment. And fist bumps from an easily impressed crowd on the Internet. Eric Lerner’s “All those A-holes who think they know so much just don’t get it” approach seems evidence enough.

If you want to believe.

Aneutronic fusion, as far as I can tell, is more akin to cold fusion (you remember Pons and Fleischmann, right?)  in that it shares the term “fusion” with the intense release of energy that happens in stars but not the potential for lighting up cities.

I’m going to say that the effort at Lawrenceville Plasma is more impossible dream than robust science. But, look, I could be wrong. I don’t have a Phd either.

Here’s some interesting back-and-forth on this event from ars technica (a site for tech geeks).


In the meantime, it’s fair to ask if we’ve given up too easily on the main fusion effort, the deuterium-tritium cycle that Lerner’s group disdains.


It HAS been a long time. And it may be yet another 20 years until commercialization of fusion power. But, you know what? The Joint European Torus has produced 16 megawatts of power-  not nothing – and demonstrated that the deuterium tritium cycle is technically feasible. A commercial scale power plant (that’s ITER) is where the remaining bugs get worked out. If all goes well – and I grant you that’s a lot of all’s to go well – we’re on our way to curbing global warming and a whole of other impossible stuff.

A new era.

For those who can wait.

– – – – – – – – –

Image attribution:

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.


Thursday, 9 June, 2011



Chloe Sohl was a happy kid, hanging with friends, worrying about her looks, and trying to stay awake in stupid math class, when something really, really, surprising happened to her.

She went deaf.

Is there a good time to go deaf?

If it happens at the EXACT second when the kid who’s thumpin’ your seat back starts screaming? Yeah. That’s OK.

Long as you get yer hearing back after you land.

But forever? And  in high school when you, seriously, NEED to  jabber all day and all night with other kids to keep SANE? And be hooked up to  music when, THEORETICALLY, you should be studying? Ugh!


Chloe wasn’t completely deaf yet but it was bad and getting worse. Hearing aids helped a little. Maybe drugs would slow things down. Eventually, though, Chloe’s ears were over.

Some say deafness isn’t bad. Kinda cool, actually. Maybe you’ve seen young people  talking in sign. Their fingers dance, their eyes gleam, and their faces are animated. It’s amazing and it is beautiful to watch. This isn’t a disability, it’s a gift. Cochlear implants are for slugs.

But Chloe wasn’t trying to make a political statement. She just wanted her life back.


Her folks (both doctors)   explored all the “safe” possibilities and came up dry. Should they go the  edge? Should they gamble or should they accept a life of silence for their daughter? They had heard about a Korean company, RNL Bio, that offers stem cell cures. After talking to the docs there, they decided to take a chance.

“ We only did it, once we were convinced it would be safe for our daughter to have this treatment. Among the things that were reassuring about the treatment were the fact that the cells are coming from her own body .. That decreases, a great deal, chances of a mishap,“ says her dad. (Video below.)


Chloe became a “medical tourist”.  After sending off some tissue samples to RNL Bio, she traveled to Japan where stem cells were infused into her body. MISTER ScienceAintSoBad doesn’t know what she was thinking when they hooked her to the IV; HE would have been thinking “Time to kiss my butt goodbye”.

Luckily, nothing terrible happened to Chloe. She returned to the U. S. and, eventually, got back all the hearing in one ear and most  in the other. She could hear again. The first American – the first earthling, as far as we know – to have been thus “cured” of deafness by stem cells.




Uh. Yeah, yeah, and I’ll put quotes anywhere I want to. My blog.

Here’s the thing.

Stefan Heller (Stanford University School of Medicine) knows about  hearing loss. He’s a revered pioneer in this field. His remarks to MISTER ScienceAintSoBad were short and clear. He  isn’t a fan of this kind of thing.

We’ll leave it at that.

Research into hearing loss is going great guns, but it’ll be a long time till you see cures announced.  The researchers are careful. They don’t want to risk hurting as many people as they help. Or taking money under false pretexts.

The burden is heavy. It’s how we do science.

Dull, huh?

So what do these magicians at RNL Bio  know that the rest of the world doesn’t?

Maybe it’s WHO they know. According to an article in Korea Times (November 15, 2010), the company gave breaks to lawmakers in return for favors. An investigation was launched into its practices this year.


It clones dogs.

It sell cosmetics (stem cell based).

A couple of patients died. Not saying it’s their fault. You gotta worry a LITTLE though, right?

And its success stories, like the carefully prepared video on YouTube that’s posted below, are more often touted in unchallenged venues then in professional forums.


Medical experiments on human beings is kinda complicated territory. We let cancer patients do “trials”, for example. Usually, this is a last resort. But, still, however tightly controlled,  these are experiments (with strict protocols). Unlike most research facilities, institutions that cater to “medical tourism” aren’t under that much scrutiny. Their published studies and follow-ups are a little sparse. As far as hearing loss goes, we haven’t heard of any other successful stem cell  cures like this one in a human.

Was Chloe Stohl just lucky? Was it the other drug that was in her system at the same time? Was it a rare case of spontaneous recovery  unrelated to the stem cell infusion? Why isn’t her current health status public? Were we all tricked, somehow? Was it a made up story?

This blog’s detective agency is busy with Congressman Wiener, right now. No time to figure what’s behind the curtain in the Sohl case. Probably we’ll never know.

How do we rate this one?

ScienceAintSoBadRating for a good yarn = 10

ScienceAintSoBadRating for good science?  Uh… Jury? Hey. Where’s the jury? Are they still out?

Video Of Chloe Sohl

Credit for the  image of an ear (has nothing to do with stem cells, by the way): Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic License.

That A Doctor In Your Pocket?

Friday, 19 November, 2010


I guess you’ve been watching all the smuggies with their smartphones.

You can live without one, right?

Till now.

Here’s an app so good you gotta buy a phone to carry the app around.

I think I’m serious.

Healthagen developed this thing called iTriage


iTriage’s brilliance is the way it puts a simple interface over medicine. Your phone becomes your Startrek Tricorder. The pain’s in the biceps? All the time? Just at night?

Click “look up symptoms” to search an ordered list of likely symptoms.

Once you think you know what’s causing the problem, you can “Find Medical Treatment” or “Learn About Procedures”.

You can even “Find A Doctor”.

If you don’t understand a medical term you can look that up.

I was chicken to try the “Emergency” button . Was it gonna make an entire team of paramedics materialize right out of the phone? What would I tell ’em? Just looking?

Is iTriage the ultimate “Doctor In A Box”?


Look up “cough” (under symptoms) and you find “ACE inhibitor use”,” atypical pneumonia”, “bronchial asthma”. Lots more. But you don’t find “allergies” (allergy is listed under diseases but you gotta be able to make the connection, yourself). Look up “hearing” or “hearing loss” – nothing. “Ear” gets you to “Ear problem” but you won’t find hearing loss, deafness, or presbycusis  or sensironeural hearing loss (which affects about 300 million people). Not in diseases either.

No step by step instructions for thoracic surgery, either. Could be MISTER ScienceAintSoBad is expecting too much from a new (and free) app.

Itriage is available on Android phones, the Iphone, and on the web. An educational and fun beginning.

By next year you should be able to toss the Tricorder and rely solely on yer phone.


By the way, you like cool interactive ways to learn? Try this INTERACTIVE BOOK .

Another Step In Hearing Research

Saturday, 22 August, 2009


HearingResearch: Restoring Hair Cells

OK. It’s getting exciting.

John Brigande, of the Oregon Hearing Research Centre in Portland, (Centre? Isn’t that a little pretentious for Portland) has implanted a gene and demonstrated growth of hair cells in the inner ear.

Functional and quite normal hair cells.

In a mouse embryo.Mouse embryos are, no doubt, pleased.

The article has a trying-not-to-get-too-excited tone, emphasizing that there’s still a lot of work to do. While conceding that it is no longer a “pipe dream” to talk about medical solutions to hearing loss, Mark Downs of the Royal National Institute for Deaf People made it clear that he is not about to get drawn into a discussion of when human trials could begin.

Science Ain’t So Bad happens to agree with the cautionary words.

There would seem to be numerous ways that this can all go wrong – turning into tumors. failing after 6 months, and, obviously, something different about mouse ears.

Still, if only for the little frisson of excitement (and for, seemingly, careful work in the best traditions of science), ScienceAin’tSoBadRating = 8 .

Flight Data Recorders. A Radical Solution

Friday, 12 June, 2009


EngineeringDesign: AIR FRANCE FLIGHT 447


The Flight Data Recorders of Flight 447 are in the ocean. When the batteries for its “pingers” run down, that it.


I suggested, last time, that the data in those “Black Boxes” could have been broadcast or “streamed” to a receiving station (perhaps via satellite) for later use. My very knowledgeable nephew, Sean, questions the practicality of such a scheme. He doesn’t think “the bandwidth is there” But the Managing Director of the NSTSB seems to think something like that may be technically/scientifically possible.

If the “Black Box data” for the Air France flight could have been thus transmitted and stored, how would things be different now?

We would certainly know more. In fact, we might well have had enough information to begin reconstructing the accident without having to wait for recovery operations. Even more important, we might have captured the last known GPS coordinates of the airplane.

Had it come down in one piece, we would know where to go. Exactly where.

The Air France accident was probably unsurvivable. But, in some wrecks, knowing an exact location immediately could make a big difference.

I have not been able to get an “on the record” response from the Airline Pilots Association.

Not that I blame them. Science Ain’t So Bad isn’t NBC. But I continue to wonder if pilots are ready to allow in-flight data (and, maybe, voice communications) to escape the confines of the cockpit with all the implications for later scrutiny and second guessing.

What about airlines? How do they feel about a huge cache of discoverable records just waiting for the lawyers to find them on “discovery”?

Practical concerns vs safety. Technical achievement vs cost.

For now, the Black Boxes remain.

EarthquakeRescue: Sonic Beacon

See if you can recognize the very famous actor in this video which shows my team’s approach to the problems of earthquake survival.


This week, I discovered a free, weekly newsletter which is focussed on hearing loss and deafness. Edited by Larry Sivertson, it is carefully crafted, with a great mix of science and practical information. It’s called HOH-LD News. If you’re interested, send an email.


This may be a comfort for people with Type 1 diabetes (recently discussed here). Vitamin C. Doggone!

And I’m not neglecting Type 2.



I’ve been having discussions with Dr. Michael Bodo about some intriguing work he’s doing that has implications for brain health. Maybe early detection/prevention of stroke.


Large Hadron Collider Saves Paper

Friday, 1 May, 2009

Base image from

 I try to be selective about the things I write. There’s a lot of scientific work being done and, realistically, I can’t report on all of it. But this work by physicist Andre Martin at the Large Hadron Collider (Switzerland) is too important to ignore. 
You know how the tables at outdoor cafes ALWAYS seem to need a napkin tucked under one of the legs so that you don’t spill your wine? Dr. Martin has studied this problem and, with some preliminary experimentation and then with the rigor of mathematics, he has shown us a way to remove the napkin and keep the table steady.
As to my previous post concerning the health of Dr. Stephen Hawkings, happily he  is reported to be recovering.

Almost 9% of Americans (me too!) are hard-of-hearing or deaf. We now know it can be reversed or cured. We’re not there yet, but lots of the pieces are understood already. It sounds like a decade-ish kind of thing. I’ll write about the progress on the regeneration of “hair cells” (I hope) in my next post.

Surely you remember my rant about pirates . Captain Richard Phillips, the merchant marine captain who’s remarkable leadership and pluck saved his ship and crew was OBVIOUSLY pursuaded by my irresistable logic (or something). He is calling for ships to carry guards and for the crews to be trained and armed.