Medicine: New Hope for Hearing

More than 17 million Americans suffer from some degree of hearing loss. Many are older people whose deafness is caused by progressive nerve damage, which can often be corrected by artificial hearing aids. But a significant number are younger people whose impairment is triggered by disease or injury to the tympanum and ossicles (see diagram), the eardrum and tiny vibrating bones that transmit sound waves to the inner ear.

Until recently, surgeons had only one method of correcting damage to the eardrum—repair of the tympanum with tissue usually taken from the fibrous lining of the ear muscle. This operation sometimes thickened the...

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