Scientists at Northwestern University in Chicago have recently made what may be a fundamental breakthrough in understanding and treating hearing loss. They have found the chemical that permits human hair cells to amplify signals by rapidly and dramatically changing shape. There are several implications of this discovery:
1. It is possible that some forms of genetic deafness are related to this chemical.
2. It is possible that understanding the role of this chemical may lead to a treatment for tinnitus. Some researchers believe that tinnitus is caused, at least in part, by something gone wrong with this newly-discovered chemical.
3. Not directly related to hearing, but of more general interest is the fact that this chemical facilitates the transformation of electrical impulses into movements. This capability could lead to the development of tiny biological pumps, signalers, or other devices that may become important in the emerging field of nanotechnology. While other biological cells also convert electrical impulses to motion (e.g. muscles), these cells are unique in that they perform this action without requiring an external source of energy.