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Researchers Testing New Electric Treatment for Migraines

A small dc current through the skull seems to interrupt the headaches and may even prevent them

4 min read

4 October 2007—The brain’s occipital lobe is usually the first to know when a migraine is coming. In desperation it frazzles the vision, smearing it with dark blotches, changing the perception of light intensity, sometimes even inserting things that aren’t there. Only then does the pain come, radiating from the brain and into the rest of the body as fatigue and numbness.

Today, there are no fully satisfying treatments for migraine symptoms. But researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, in Boston, are testing a low-tech treatment that could shock migraine patients back to their senses and provide a cheap alternative to drugs. The technology involved—transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS)—is simple: stimulate the brain with sudden, controlled bursts of electricity to interrupt and modify the brain circuits responsible for causing migraine pain.

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Restoring Hearing With Beams of Light

Gene therapy and optoelectronics could radically upgrade hearing for millions of people

13 min read
A computer graphic shows a gray structure that’s curled like a snail’s shell. A big purple line runs through it. Many clusters of smaller red lines are scattered throughout the curled structure.

Human hearing depends on the cochlea, a snail-shaped structure in the inner ear. A new kind of cochlear implant for people with disabling hearing loss would use beams of light to stimulate the cochlear nerve.

Lakshay Khurana and Daniel Keppeler
Blue

There’s a popular misconception that cochlear implants restore natural hearing. In fact, these marvels of engineering give people a new kind of “electric hearing” that they must learn how to use.

Natural hearing results from vibrations hitting tiny structures called hair cells within the cochlea in the inner ear. A cochlear implant bypasses the damaged or dysfunctional parts of the ear and uses electrodes to directly stimulate the cochlear nerve, which sends signals to the brain. When my hearing-impaired patients have their cochlear implants turned on for the first time, they often report that voices sound flat and robotic and that background noises blur together and drown out voices. Although users can have many sessions with technicians to “tune” and adjust their implants’ settings to make sounds more pleasant and helpful, there’s a limit to what can be achieved with today’s technology.

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