Last month, Stefan Heller and other researchers at the Stanford Medical School published a huge breakthrough in inner-ear stem cell research. Over the last few weeks the news has been all over: I've heard about it through the New York Times, through deaf networks, and through classes here on campus. The biology nerd in me finds it beyond cool, and I thought I'd post it here:
Though it may never directly affect me, Heller's research is unbelievably relevant to the process I am going through. When I was considering my implant, one of the questions I asked was about the status of recent stem cell research, and whether it would ever be a feasible alternative to a CI. This has always been one of my reservations about CIs: should I go ahead with a surgery that will likely destroy most, if not all, of the residual hearing in my cochlea, when there might be huge technological advances a few years down the road? Is it better to hold out?
My doctors' answer was no. If researchers like Heller ever make significant strides with stem cell therapy for deafness, clinical trials are at least ten years away. No sense in waiting for that, if a CI can help me here and now.
Of course, this stem cell research is not without its controversy. It brings up the Deaf objection that deafness is not a disease that needs to be "cured." To put it lightly, Deaf people find it offensive whenever hearing people dare tackle projects like this. As for what I think about that? Let's just say that it's suddenly become very complicated.