Research to help hearing loss

February 14, 2012, Victoria University

Research at Victoria University aims to improve the diagnosis and treatment of hearing defects.

Paul Teal, a Senior Lecturer in the School of Engineering and Computer Science, is investigating whether new technologies can be used to more accurately assess hearing loss.

Dr Teal’s research is focused on new ways of measuring the cochlea microphonic signal. The cochlea is a spiralling, snail-like chamber embedded inside bone which turns sound vibrations into electrical signals that travel along nerves to the brain and allow us to hear.

A healthy cochlea provides compression which amplifies quiet sounds more than loud sounds. In the most common form of hearing loss, this compression is degraded.

The current, standard test for is an audiogram that Dr Teal says effectively measures the softest sounds people can hear but is less reliable in gauging how well they hear louder sounds.

"Modern hearing aids are capable of helping people to better hear both soft and loud sounds, but current tests don’t define the full spectrum and prescriptions are based on population averages rather than an individual’s condition.

"My vision is that we will one day be able to hook people up to a device that plays them tones and sounds and gives an automatic read-out on the make-up of the hearing aid they need."

Dr Teal says the existing method of measuring the cochlea microphonic signal is invasive and audiologists tend to opt for other, non-invasive tests to diagnose a range of problems.

"The reason we’ve gone back to looking for ways of collecting an electrical signal directly from the cochlea is the huge advance in electronics in recent decades.

"The cochlea is buried deep inside the ear and the tiny signals coming from it are often masked by interference. Chips are so much more sophisticated these days that we hope to be able to single out the cochlea microphonic signal."

Dr Teal is experimenting with gold-plated foam ear plugs that have electrodes clipped on to them to harness signals from deep inside the ear.

But getting good sound from the cochlea is only one part of his research, which also involves collaborators from the University of Auckland. The other challenge is interpreting it.

One of Dr Teal’s innovations has been to develop a model that combines understanding about both mechanical and electrical components in the way the cochlea behaves.  His work in this area was recently presented to an international audience at the Mechanics of Hearing Workshop in Massachusetts.

It’s an exciting field of research, says Dr Teal, because of the mysteries it holds.

"There is still a lot of dispute about how the even works. It’s hard to study because of where it is in the body and because of the complex processes at work.

"There is a lot yet to be learned and that has potential to deliver better treatments for hearing disorders."

Dr Teal is applying his expertise in signal processing into a range of other areas including less invasive ways of monitoring foetal heart beats and methods of detecting seizures in new-born babies.

Explore further: Know the types of hearing loss to find the right treatment

Related Stories

Know the types of hearing loss to find the right treatment

May 13, 2011
The solution for hearing loss isn’t just to turn up the volume on the TV—and the treatments available largely depend on the type of hearing loss a patient is experiencing.

Hearing theory music to MP3 generation ears

December 1, 2011
The revival of a 150-year-old theory on how the human ear protects itself from damage caused by loud sounds could lead to better noise protection says a researcher from The Australian National University.

Recommended for you

Researchers illustrate how muscle growth inhibitor is activated, could aid in treating ALS

January 19, 2018
Researchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine are part of an international team that has identified how the inactive or latent form of GDF8, a signaling protein also known as myostatin responsible for ...

Bioengineered soft microfibers improve T-cell production

January 18, 2018
T cells play a key role in the body's immune response against pathogens. As a new class of therapeutic approaches, T cells are being harnessed to fight cancer, promising more precise, longer-lasting mitigation than traditional, ...

Weight flux alters molecular profile, study finds

January 17, 2018
The human body undergoes dramatic changes during even short periods of weight gain and loss, according to a study led by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Secrets of longevity protein revealed in new study

January 17, 2018
Named after the Greek goddess who spun the thread of life, Klotho proteins play an important role in the regulation of longevity and metabolism. In a recent Yale-led study, researchers revealed the three-dimensional structure ...

The HLF gene protects blood stem cells by maintaining them in a resting state

January 17, 2018
The HLF gene is necessary for maintaining blood stem cells in a resting state, which is crucial for ensuring normal blood production. This has been shown by a new research study from Lund University in Sweden published in ...

Magnetically applied MicroRNAs could one day help relieve constipation

January 17, 2018
Constipation is an underestimated and debilitating medical issue related to the opioid epidemic. As a growing concern, researchers look to new tools to help patients with this side effect of opioid use and aging.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.