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December 19, 2002

Study looks at teaching brain to hear again

From: CFCN, Canada - 19 Dec 2002

There's new hope for people who have hearing loss.

Researchers at the University of Calgary have combined two technologies in hopes of finding out how the brain deals with sound, and how it can be taught to hear after a hearing loss.

In traditional hearing testing, a tone is delivered and the subject indicates if they can hear it or not.

Unfortunately, the traditional test does not tell doctors much about what type of hearing loss the person has.

Often people with hearing loss have few options.

"Hearing aids will produce different results in different people. Some people work very well with it. Some people don't like it. We think the differences are in the brain," said Dr. Jos Eggermont, who specializes in hearing deficiencies.

That's why researchers at the U of C have combined traditional testing with a MRI that shows what's going on in the brain.

"That's what the functional MRI is able to give us; that kind of info. So, by combining the two techniques, we have the most precise info about what the brain is doing," explained medical student Carrie Tobolski.

The research team hopes that, by tracing which parts of the brain react to sound at which time, they can design hearing aids that help the brain hear.

They could also help the brain grow new pathways for hearing.

"A lot of the brain can be changed by training, if you just know what to do," said Eggermont.

The group will begin studying hearing-impaired people in January.

It will be at least five to 10 years before the research team will have enough information to apply it, but they are optimistic their work will make a big difference.

"It was definitely a challenge, but it's wonderful. I just hope our research does lead to helping people with hearing loss, that's the whole goal of it," added Tobolski.

The program, which is the first of it's kind in the world, will be run at the U of C's new Clinical Auditory Research Lab.

Statistics Canada estimates nearly three million Canadians suffer some level of hearing loss.

Copyright © 2002 Bell Globemedia Interactive, a division of Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc.