Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Taking a Moment to Listen

By Leslee Lewis

I was reading today about how scientists across the nation are working together to try to solve a mystery. Apparently tiny hairs inside the ear are key to hearing. These tiny hairs are not alone. They are supported on your auditory epithelium by at least five different types of support cells. If those fragile little hairs inside your head are damaged, they never regrow. Scientists hypothesize that in some cases the support cells remain after the hair dies, and in others a different type of nonsensory neighboring cells may move in and grow in place of the sensory cells. Neither one revives your hearing. Without the tiny hairs that do not regrow, your hearing is permanently impaired.

Interestingly, birds may hold the key. Chickens and some other birds reproduce these tiny, fragile hairs when they are damaged. In fact, a network of scientists across the country are working to figure out why. If they can figure out chicken hairs - why and how they regrow - then they think they just might be able to regenerate these hairs in humans and reverse sensorineural hearing loss. That would make a big difference to millions in the world who are slipping into silence a few tiny hairs at a time. People like my children.

This whole story got me thinking. What if each of us in the course of our day, year or life, comes across something akin to these hairs – someone or something fragile, delicate, hurting or in need of protection? Something precious that, if lost, is gone forever, leaving behind support cells or maybe a void. Would you recognize it? Would you help? And would you be willing to call up a team of your friends and look in the least likely places – like inside an animal covered with feathers not hair – to find a solution?

Each of us (even lawyers!) has a role to play in making a difference. What's yours?

Leslee M. Lewis is a member in the Grand Rapids office who is proud to work with nonprofits, hospitals, foundations, and those providing care for the elderly and differently abled, among others, to make a difference. She has three children, including two with sensorineural hearing loss.