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Hearing Loss and Birds

Can the study of birds help humans?
© Garrett Heath View Large

More than 20 years ago, Professor Ed Rubel of the University of Washington discovered that chickens could repair their own damaged hearing. The birds regrow tiny structures in the inner ear, known as auditory hair cells. Most vertebrates can regenerate these cells - but mammals cannot. Studying the mechanism of hearing regeneration in birds may be just the key to new therapies for restoring human hearing.

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BirdNote®
Hearing Loss and Birds
Hearing Regained – How Birds Might Help

Written by Bob Sundstrom

This is BirdNote!

[Wood Thrush song]

Listening to birds, like this singing Wood Thrush, has long been one of the great pleasures afforded the human ear. [Wood Thrush song] But for people with hearing loss, bird songs are among the first sounds to disappear. [Wood Thrush song suddenly interrupted]

Yet in a poetic twist of events, it may be research on birds that leads science to new ways to restore human hearing.

More than 20 years ago, Professor Ed Rubel of the University of Washington discovered that birds – chickens in this case [Chickens clucking] – had the ability to repair their own damaged hearing. He found that the birds were able to re-grow tiny structures in the inner ear that are known as auditory hair cells – the very same sensory cells which, when damaged in humans, are the leading cause of hearing loss. Such cells may be damaged by exposure to loud noises, disease, aging, or even medications.

Scientists now know that most vertebrates can regenerate auditory hair cells, and restore their hearing. The glaring exception? mammals, including us humans.

But studying the mechanism of hearing regeneration in birds may be just the key to new therapies for restoring human hearing. And with it, the joy of listening to the song of the Wood Thrush. [Wood Thrush song]

Sounds of the birds featured on BirdNote come from The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. For BirdNote, I’m Mary McCann.

[Wood Thrush song]
###
Call of the Wood Thrush provided by The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Recorded by G.F. Budney. 
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2014 Tune In to Nature.org   June 2014/2019   Narrator: Mary McCann

ID# hearing-01-2009-06-25-MM

For an up-to-date review of relevant research see: Jennifer S. Stone and Douglas A. Cotanche,
Hair cell regeneration in the avian auditory epithelium. Int. J. Dev. Biol. 51: 633-647 (2007)
Gone today, hear tomorrow, by Michael Tennesen, 10 March 2007, From New Scientist Print Edition

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