It’s not often that I see a piece of science writing that concisely explains a difficult concept in an accessible way, but this article at Wired on a pill that could prevent hearing loss had some well-written passages. The reporter, Noah Shachtman, used a nice turn of phrase to describe how a buildup of free radicals in the cocheal hair cells can cause damage and kill them:
When these hair cells are overstressed by loud noises, “free radicals” — unstable oxygen atoms that are short an electron — are produced, explains Southern Illinois University professor of audiology research Kathleen Campbell. The radicals start stealing electrons from nearby molecules, like the cell’s fatty walls. Enough of this thievery will kill the cell.
This can be stopped, however, if enough antioxidants — the body’s natural defense mechanisms — are supplied beforehand. The antioxidant molecules easily give up an electron. This supplies the free radical, and prevents its toxic larceny.
Hearing loss prevention is not a sexy subject and some might wonder whether there’s any point making an effort to explain it, but there’s no scientific concept too small or apparently unimportant to explain well. Shachtman did a good job in injecting a bit of humour into the article while also providing a vivid image of what’s going on in the ear. More, please!