Stanford Medicine magazine explores the art, science of listening and hearing

The spring issue of Stanford Medicine magazine focuses on the importance of listening and hearing, and how new discoveries could improve both.

Rich Tu

Are you listening?

It’s such a simple question, but your answer could be complicated, depending on who you are and why you’re listening.

Someone with trouble hearing might be straining to hear family conversations. A scientist could be tracking distinct hums of various species of mosquito to help eliminate those that spread disease. A doctor might be listening to a patient’s story for clues that can guide treatment.

The new issue of Stanford Medicine focuses on the importance of listening and hearing, and how new discoveries could improve both.

In his letter to readers, Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the Stanford University School of Medicine, explores why listening and hearing matter so much, and how new research could go a long way toward solving the mysteries of how we process sound and how it affects us physically and emotionally.

Minor and other physicians also discuss the unique relationship physicians have with  people who are suffering. They say a care provider’s ability to listen with compassion, empathy and understanding is as important as technical skills and that it’s time to address the challenges of modern medicine that are harming their ability to connect with patients. 

From opera singers to bioengineers

Throughout the issue, you’ll find stories about the healing power of sound, as well as potential breakthroughs in treating hearing loss. Opera singer Renée Fleming explains why she is working with scientists to explore how music can improve overall health and well-being. Amy Yotopoulos, director of the Mind Division of the Stanford Center on Longevity, recalls her father’s growing frustration and isolation as he started losing his hearing. Finding the right hearing aids helped him engage with his family again. The article describes why better and less costly devices are on the horizon.

Several stories explore breakthroughs in medicine and technology related to hearing, listening and sound:

  • A professor of biophysics and of otolaryngology is working with a physician-scientist to redesign a popular class of antibiotics to prevent the drug’s potential side effect of hearing loss.
  • Researchers are examining how birds regenerate crucial hearing cells so they can try to replicate the process in humans.
  • In two examples of sound research, a bioengineer has developed an app to gather recordings of the hums of disease-carrying mosquitos to help eradicate them, and researchers are using sound waves to manipulate heart cells into patterns that resemble natural cardiac tissue to help heal heart disease.
  • And given that machines are already listening to us, a Stanford group is among a coalition of people around the world who are unpacking the host of ethical, legal and social challenges of artificial intelligence in medicine. Yet the possibilities for how the information machines are capturing can be used for better diagnostics and treatment are intriguing: An AI researcher found that people speak more openly about problems to nonhuman listeners; two scientists are mining social media to learn more about the side effects of prescription drugs; and a composer and a neurologist are tapping into sound waves in the brain to detect seizures that are too minute to witness but that can still cause brain damage.


The issue also includes an essay from a doctor who uses a wheelchair and says it’s time for the medical field to be more inclusive of people with disabilities, and a story and video about an infectious disease expert who builds kinetic sculptures to explain complicated science.

The magazine is available at stanmed.stanford.edu. Print copies are being sent to subscribers. Others can request a copy at (650) 723-6911 or by sending an email to medmag@stanford.edu.



Stanford Medicine integrates research, medical education and health care at its three institutions - Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford Health Care (formerly Stanford Hospital & Clinics), and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford. For more information, please visit the Office of Communication & Public Affairs site at http://mednews.stanford.edu.

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