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ETech09 Roundup 2: dorkspotting! plus Shelley Batts, Zoe Keating March 19, 2009

Posted by Maribeth in Events, Trip Report.
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Sasha and I were both at Etech in San Jose last week, and we thought we’d comment on some of the doings there.

Lots of dorkbotters participating in ETech: though I’m sure I missed some, I spotted Michael Shiloh and Judy Castro in the Maker Shed; the Evil Mad Scientists demoing at ETechFest; David Calkins, Ben Cerveny, Mike Kuniavsky and Liz Goodman each giving a talk; Sasha herself running a “FreeTech” session (dorkbotters, always ahead of the game, have already seen this talk on her exhibits at California Academy of Sciences), and (ahem) Timothy Childs and I talking about getting chocolate on your research: TCHO + FXPAL.

Here’s a couple of my personal high points:

Shelley Batt’s session on new therapies (stem cell, gene therapy) for hearing loss: regrow those hair cells! As a hearing-impaired person, I have an abiding interest in (relatively) non-invasive technologies that promise hearing regeneration not involving surgical installation (step away from my skull with the bone drill, please). I’ve been following her work online for a while and was delighted to see her talk listed. Her work is “related to cures for deafness including gene therapy and small molecule intervention for cochlear hair cell regeneration.”

Here’s the deal with this: many people who lose their hearing do so because the tiny hair cells on the basilar membrane become damaged and die. Loud sound, high fever, some antibiotics, a physical impact, autoimmune attacks — lots of things will kill off these delicate li’l hair cells. And once dead, they don’t come back.

Turns out, though, that birds with damaged hearing actually regrow hair/sensor cells in their ears. Mammals, including us, have lost this ability. The research seems promising: there are once-deaf guinea pigs that have not only successfully regrown their hair cells, but actually hear with them (w00t!).

Bottom line: yes, it will likely work. No, there’s no timeline; probably at least a decade or more, unless it’s really well funded. And yes, Bush’s ban on stem cell research did in fact stymie this research for way too long (grrrr).

Also hearing-related: it is my great good fortune that I can still hear cello very well. Cellist/composer Zoe Keating’s concert was, as usual, remarkable. She live/loops her acoustic cello into a lovely, living sonic architecture. I remember first hearing her perform at jhno’s Natoma St. loft (really miss that space!). If you haven’t caught her in concert, at least you can hear her work online (and see upcoming concert dates) here.