To date, media attention across the emerging field of neurotechnology has primarily focused on neural prosthetics that are electro-mechanical in nature.
For example, to help the hearing impaired, cochlear implants have been developed that translate sound waves collected via a tiny microphone into electrical impulses. Most people with profound deafness have lost the ability to translate the acoustic energy of sound into the electrical signals carried to the brain by the 30,000 fibers of the auditory nerve. Cochlear implants bypass the external and middle ears by using electrical stimulation of electrodes implanted in the cochlea to reintroduce the signals carried by auditory nerve fibers to the brain.
As exciting and important as electro-mechanical advances like this are, they represent just one type of neurotechnology that will be developed in the coming years to restore and enhance human sensory systems, such as hearing.
Sensoceuticals, sensory-specific biopharmaceuticals, use a different approach to restore and enhance human sensory systems. Sensoceuticals leverage the natural regenerative capacity of our genes, proteins, and neurons to re-grow damaged sensory tissues and extend sensation capacity.
For example, sensoceuticals for hearing will be able to prevent and restore hearing loss. Current research indicates that the inner ear can be protected from the irreversible effects of noise damage using sensoceuticals. This will be an important breakthrough for soldiers who, due to the complexity of the todays battlefield, cant wear earplugs to protect their ears.
For those people who already have substantial hearing loss, researchers are also optimizing compounds that antagonize specific cell cycle proteins resulting in new cell division or proliferation. Most exciting is that these newly dividing cells have the capacity to become replacement auditory hair cells, restoring hearing loss for the deaf or partially deaf.
As the field of neurotechnology evolves it will be interesting to see how the developments occurring from the inside begin to mingle and compete for funding resources with advances coming from the outside.