Rap Music as Medicine
The sound of rap music already entertains
millions. In the future, it could save the
lives of thousands.
Babak Ziaie, a professor of electrical and
computer engineering and biomedical
engineering, is harnessing rap’s driving
bass rhythms to power a new type of
miniature medical sensor, with potential
applications ranging from monitoring
incontinence to treating aneurysms.
Cochlear implants are engineering
marvels, but they come at a cost — a
hefty price tag, a lengthy training period,
and the chance that the implants either
won’t work or will destroy remaining
hearing in the implanted ear.
Donna Fekete, a professor of biological
sciences, wants to give people with
hearing loss other options, and she’s
looking to zebrafish, chicken and mice
for some answers. From her laboratory in
Lilly Hall, she studies the molecular basis
of inner ear development in these three
Using direct injection into one-celled
zebrafish embryos, Fekete and her
team observed that an
overexpression of particular
microRNAs in zebrafish caused the
formation of too many hair cells, the
sensory receptors for the auditory
system. When microRNAs were
repressed, too few hair cells developed.
Once hair cells are gone, they can’t be
regenerated in mammals like us. So
Fekete is examining whether these
special microRNAs can be combined
with a known hair-cell promoting gene,
Atonal- 1, to grow new hair cells in mice.
The genes are delivered via viruses into
the supporting cells, which remain when
hair cells disappear. “If we could find
exactly what would stimulate those hair
cells to grow, the restoration of
hearing might be much closer to
normal than a cochlear implant,”
she says. | A.R.
Restoring Hearing through Biology