Though they are easy to take for granted, our five senses are the best tools we have for interacting with our environment. This is why a large sector of biotechnology is dedicated to preserving and improving these senses. We've seen Ann Arbor researchers restore lost sense of smell and Chicago researchers restore lost vision in years past. At the University of Cincinnati, a research group is working on effectively restoring hearing in children.
One method to return hearing ability to young children is cochlear implant surgery. Though it seems like a simple fix, in reality the surgery is costly and results spotty. In some cases, the patient fails to develop effective language skills even two years after the surgery. What the surgery needs, thought Cincinnati professor Long Lu, is some sort of test that can determine ahead of time whether the surgery will be successful, that is, allow children to develop language skills within two years of the surgery.
Long (Jason) Lu, PhD, is a researcher in the Division of Biomedical Informatics at Cincinnati Children's and an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. He studied functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of patients’ brains before and after surgeries that were successful and unsuccessful, and found that he could model trends of successful surgeries with a computer program.
Using this program, Long and his team have developed some key auditory tests that can be easily administered to infants and toddlers to determine potential success of cochlear implant surgery.
"This study identifies two features from our computer analysis that are potential biomarkers for predicting cochlear implant outcomes," says Long in a recent UC press release. "We have developed one of the first successful methods for translating research data from functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of hearing-impaired children into something with potential for practical clinical use with individual patients."
In addition, the data that the Long lab collected has indicated that the brain’s right cerebellar structures are critical to early language development, which goes against prevalent thought. They are separately following up on this finding to learn more about the rather mysterious nerve circuitry that facilitates language and auditory development.
Funding support for the study came from a methodology grant, a Institutional Clinical and Translational Science Award, and the National Institutes of Health/National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. If funding information for the research at UC interests you, consider reading our free University of Cincinnati Funding Stats and Vendor Show Info report, accessible here:
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