Posts Tagged deafness


Posted by on 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).



Posted by on 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.