Amplifiers in our ears

Many parts of human anatomy still aren’t well known and haven’t been studied as extensively as we might think. Witness the recent (re)discovery of a new ligament previously unknown in the knee. So now it looks like there’s evidence that in the ear there are tiny little amplifiers that increase the signal before it’s sent off to the brain:

The research could also help settle a long-simmering debate: Do the inner workings of the ear function somewhat passively with sound waves traveling into the cochlea, bouncing along sensory tissue, and slowing as they encounter resistance until they are boosted and processed into sound? Or does the cochlea actively amplify sound waves? The study, published in Biophysical Journal, suggests the latter is the case.

It looks like this will hopefully lead the charge towards building better hearing aids. Something many of us will likely need in the future.

Although the research won’t immediately lead to new hearing aids, it does provide insights into the mechanics of the cochlea, which is essential for being better able to simulate its function. “The most significant aspect of the team’s results is it eliminates certain models and it guides us toward building better models of the cochlea,” says Stephen Neely, an electrical engineer specializing in hearing of the Boys Town National Research Hospital in Omaha, Neb. That, in turn, has clear implications for future cochlear implants, which bypass the middle ear, delivering electrical signals directly to the cochlea.

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