From its humble and oversized origins with the hearing horn in the 1800s, the hearing aid has reached the pinnacle of its technological life cycle. Today, the devices are so small they don’t just fit inside the ear; they’re also nearly invisible. It’s hard to see the technology of artificially assisted hearing getting any smaller or more compact than it already is, and the focus is now directed towards making affordable hearing aids.
Though the road to making hearing aids more compact seem to have reached the end of its course, scientists are looking at new avenues to improve assisted hearing, one of those avenues is stem cell. Researchers at Sheffield University demonstrated that stem cells have the potential of restoring hearing in gerbils. Stem cell injections restored 45% hearing ability in subjects tested, human trials are the next logical step.
Another possibility that scientists are considering is a technology called the “ear-lens”, the device is a transducer that’s mounted on the eardrum. The lens receives a laser signal from the external part of the aid, placed behind the ear, and the transducer converts that laser signal into a physical vibration on the eardrum itself. Though it’s still on its clinical trial stage, the hope for the ear-lens is that it would provide a wider frequency range than conventional hearing aids.
The pace of technology now runs at such a breakneck pace that optimistic observers are predicting the first fully implanted hearing aid will become a reality within the decade. The best part is the device will get its power from the human body itself, the battery recharges by using inductive charging. No more cleaning, removing, or battery changes ever again.
Many scientific efforts are geared towards cochlea regeneration, and researchers predict that the technology will be available in the next half century. The process involves persuading the degenerated cells in the inner ear to grow, or the surrounding cells to transform their cell type. The research is still in its theoretical stage, as scientists are still finding a way to prompt the cells to change their behavior.
The improvement of hearing aid technology is far from its end, and humanity will always find more ways to keep improving.