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Ear doctors turn to public for help w/ research

February 1, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
Much of how disease affects the ear remains a mystery. Now, local doctors are turning to the public to get some answers.

The secrets of the ear and curing hearing loss lie in and around the temporal bone, situated on the side of the skull that houses the inner ear. It's the key to hearing and balance. Research can only be done on donor temporal bones, and there used to be 36 active temporal bone research labs in the country - now there's only three.

The remaining one in Los Angeles at the House Research Institute needs help to continue to help others.

It's been a month since surgeons implanted a cochlear device into 80-year-old William Rothwall. Noise induced hearing loss caused him near deafness, but he's amazed at how well the device is working.

"I'm marvelous. I'm benefitting daily," he said.

How the implant continues to work as Rothwall ages is one of many things scientists at the temporal bone lab at the House Research Institute are studying. It's the only way researchers can find out precisely how disease and injury affects hearing.

Dr. Fred Linthicum, 90, is part of the house research team that discovered the cause of hearing loss from otosclerosis, an abnormal middle ear bone growth.

"Because of that, a surgical correction was devised for it, and now all of those people who get a hearing loss due to otosclerosis can have their hearing restored," Linthicum said.

The team is also working on identifying the genes that cause hereditary hearing loss.

The long-term effect of the cochlear implant on Rothwall's auditory nerve is something researchers would like to examine up close, and since he is the beneficiary of research, he is thinking about being a donor.

People who decide to become temporal bone donors receive a free hearing test every five years. It helps establish a medical record that can be studied for future generations.

The House Research Institute is hoping people from different ethnicities will become temporal bone donors since many hearing loss conditions affect minorities differently.

To find out more about the pledge program, visit http://www.hei.org/support/support.htm.