Pioneering research, being carried out in Nottingham, into the development of cochlear implants — hearing devices that convert sound into neural signals — and the future of this technology will feature in a special focus issue of Nature Neuroscience on Tuesday 26 May 2009.
The focus issue ‘How do we hear?’ looks at the neurobiology of hearing and highlights the work of the MRC Institute of Hearing Research (IHR) and the National Biomedical Research Unit in Hearing (NBRUH) in partnership with The University of Nottingham and Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust (NUH).
The article ‘Beyond cochlear implants: awakening the deafened brain’ by Professor David Moore, Director of IHR and Scientific Director of NBRUH, and Professor Robert Shannon from the House Ear Institute in Los Angeles, discusses the ability of the brain to learn how to use cochlear implants and the importance of understanding this process to the future of implant technology.
Seven perspective and review articles will be highlighted covering recent advances in our understanding of how sounds are converted into neural signals, how these processes go wrong in hearing loss, and what attempts to rectify such hearing loss tell us about brain function.
Hearing loss affects the majority of older adults, resulting in greatly reduced quality of life. In children it can impede proper development. Cochlear implants have provided hearing to more than 120,000 deaf people, both young and old.
Recent developments include direct electrical stimulation of the brain, bilateral implants and implantation in children less than one year old. The article discusses research which is beginning to refocus on the role of the brain in providing benefits to implant users. It explains that the auditory system is able to use the highly impoverished input provided by implants to interpret speech, but this only works well in those who have developed language before their deafness or in those who receive their implant at a very young age.
Dave Moore said: “Hearing research is undergoing a revolution as our focus shifts from the ear to the brain. The incredible ability of the brain to learn is essential for gaining maximum benefit from hearing aids and cochlear implants and for optimal listening to sounds in noisy places.”
In January 2004 IHR embarked on an ambitious and exciting new programme of work focussing on the auditory brain. This work includes research on the human and animal auditory cortex, auditory attention, learning and development, hearing disability and handicap, hearing with cochlear implants and hearing aids, and measures of hearing impairment.
NBRUH was founded in April 2008 and is the result of a unique partnership between The University of Nottingham, the Medical Research Council, and the NUH. Its slogan is ‘Learning to treat hearing loss’. It is located in Ropewalk House, on the City’s edge, also home to Nottingham’s main NHS Audiology Service. NBRUH develops and steers hearing and learning research towards the development of services and products that will have direct patient benefit. With funding of £3.75m over the next four years from the Department of Health through its National Institute for Health Research major research programmes at NBRUH include improving the outcome for babies receiving bilateral cochlear implants, training older people to make best use of their impaired hearing, and developing learning-based treatments for tinnitus.
— Ends —
Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 100 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and Times Higher (THE) World University Rankings.
More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to RAE 2008, with almost 60 per cent of all research defined as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. Research Fortnight analysis of RAE 2008 ranks the University 7th in the UK by research power. In 27 subject areas, the University features in the UK Top Ten, with 14 of those in the Top Five.
The University provides innovative and top quality teaching, undertakes world-changing research, and attracts talented staff and students from 150 nations. Described by The Times as Britain's "only truly global university", it has invested continuously in award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. Twice since 2003 its research and teaching academics have won Nobel Prizes. The University has won the Queen's Award for Enterprise in both 2006 (International Trade) and 2007 (Innovation — School of Pharmacy), and was named ‘Entrepreneurial University of the Year’ at the Times Higher Education Awards 2008.
Nottingham was designated as a Science City in 2005 in recognition of its rich scientific heritage, industrial base and role as a leading research centre. Nottingham has since embarked on a wide range of business, property, knowledge transfer and educational initiatives (www.science-city.co.uk) in order to build on its growing reputation as an international centre of scientific excellence. The University of Nottingham is a partner in Nottingham: the Science City.
Founded in 1977, the Institute of Hearing Research is a unit within the Medical Research Council. Its objective is to conduct research into hearing and hearing disorders, and translate this research from scientific discovery to clinical practice. IHR website: www.ihr.mrc.ac.uk