Projects

A researcher looking at multiple colourful computer screens

Current research projects

These are our ongoing research projects across all fields
 

 

A male PhD student working at a microscope

Validation of HCN2 ion channels as targets for treatment of tinnitus

Project lead: Michael Akeroyd

Funder: Royal National Institute for Deaf People

Bothersome tinnitus might be treated with drugs designed to treat chronic pain and that act on the auditory nerve to block aberrant activity that may be involved in maintaining tinnitus.

Although the underlying drivers of tinnitus are still not completely clear, we believe that tinnitus is produced by pathological alterations in the activity of the auditory nerve and the consequent perception of phantom sound. This sound may be produced by the auditory equivalent of pain fibres causing a constant perception of phantom sound rather than pain. There are similarities between the biological processes involved in chronic pain and tinnitus. The chronic pain is produced by activation of HCN2 channels in nerve fibres and we are attempting to treat chronic tinnitus using drugs that have been effective in blocking chronic pain.

 

 

 
A male wearing a tDCS cap

Transcranial modulation of brain oscillatory activity in people with tinnitus: A concurrent transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) - magnetoencephalography (MEG) study

Project lead: Magdalena Sereda

PhD student: Bas Labree

Funder: NIHR Nottingham BRC

Evaluation of a new method of treating tinnitus using non-invasive brain stimulation and brain scanning to investigate what changes in the brain during treatment sessions. 
This project investigates whether transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) can offer relief from tinnitus. Tinnitus is thought to result from high levels of coordinated nerve cell (oscillatory) activity in particular regions of the brain. tDCS is a technique that uses a weak electric current to reduce that activity. The study is the first to record brain activity using magnetoencephalography (MEG) during tDCS in tinnitus participants. This represents an important step-change in this field in terms of objectively measuring what happens during tinnitus treatment. This project is a collaboration between NIHR Nottingham BRC and Sir Peter Mansfield Imaging Centre (SPMIC).
 

 

 
The CHEAR logo

Covid-19 and Hearing (CHEAR): a study examining the effects of Covid-19 on hearing, tinnitus and balance

Project leads: Michael Akeroyd, Paul Bateman

Funders: NIHR Nottingham BRC; NIHR Clinical Research Facility, Interacoustics; Senior Investigator Award (Professor Deb Hall)

CHEAR has a primary objective is to determine the prevalence of hearing loss, tinnitus, and balance problems in cases of COVID-19 through in-person audiometric assessments using gold-standard diagnostic tests and/or online tasks to be completed at home.
This project is closed to recruitment and is now in follow-up.
 

 

 

 

A male research participant using a tablet for a study

Feasibility of a randomised clinical trial (RCT) to examine the effectiveness of auditory-cognitive training to improve hearing aid users' speech perception outcomes, compared with hearing aids alone

Project lead: Helen Henshaw

Funder: National Institute for Health and Care Research 

Computer games designed to help people practice listening to speech can improve cognition and listening abilities. These games (termed auditory-cognitive training) can improve outcomes for people with hearing loss and hearing aid users. The current project will assess the feasibility of a future clinical trial of the effectiveness of two newly-developed auditory-cognitive training games.

There are 12 million people in the UK with long-term hearing loss. Hearing loss isolates people, cutting them off from society. The standard treatment is to amplify quiet sounds using hearing aids, but listening also requires cognition (memory and attention), particularly in noisy and challenging everyday environments. Our research has shown that computer games designed to help people practice listening to speech can improve cognition and listening abilities for people with hearing loss and hearing aid users. These games, termed auditory training, could help patients better understand speech in noise, improving communication, which can improve quality of life.

In the future, we need a large clinical trial to understand all of the benefits of these games to patients. First, we need to find out if the large trial could work, and if so, how best to design it. To do this, we are carrying out a feasibility study. The feasibility study will help ensure any future clinical trial provides high-quality evidence and value for money. We will involve patients in designing the feasibility study, which in turn will make it easier for future patients to take part in the trial.

 

 

 

 

A female clinician using an otoscope on a female participant

Nottingham Hearing BioResource

Project lead: Ian Wiggins

Funders: NIHR Nottingham BRC; CRN East Midlands Under-Served Communities

The Nottingham Hearing BioResource (NHB) represents our effort to begin leveraging the power of large, open, accessible datasets towards transforming the way treat and manage hearing loss and hearing-related conditions in future.
Large-scale datasets, such as the UK Biobank and the Human Connectome Project, have proved extremely powerful for facilitating research into mechanisms of human health and disease.  However, a limitation of existing datasets is that hearing health phenotypes are captured at a rudimentary level, with even basic pure-tone audiometry data rarely being available. This severely limits the scope of the questions that can be asked of these datasets from an auditory perspective. The Nottingham Hearing BioResource (NHB) represents our effort to begin leveraging the power of large, open, accessible datasets in a way that could transform how we treat and manage hearing loss and hearing-related conditions in future.
 

 

 

 

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Audio-vestibular Symptoms associated with Traumatic Brain Injury

Project lead: Kathryn Fackrell

PhD student: Kübra Bölükbaş

Funder: The Republic of Turkiye Ministry of National Education

The damage to the auditory system due to trauma causes many problems related to the hearing and vestibular system. The aim of this project is to comprehensively present the auditory and vestibular consequences of non-blast-related TBI. 
An online survey study to evaluate the experience and opinions of healthcare professionals dealing with this patient group, and recruitment was launched in May 2022 and data collection will be completed in December 2022. At the same time, a scoping review exploring and collating the auditory and vestibular problems reported in individuals with non-blast-related TBI is ongoing. Findings obtained from these studies will then be used to inform the structure of our clinical project. Our studies will provide clinicians and researchers with a useful framework for advanced research and clinical practice in the diagnosis and treatment of auditory and balance disorders associated with non-blast-related TBI.
 

 

 

 

 

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CROSSSD (CoRe Outcome Set for Single-Sided Deafness)

Project leads: Derek Hoare and Kathryn Fackrell

PhD student: Roulla Katiri

Funder: NIHR Nottingham BRC

Researchers have been assessing the benefits and harms (known as ‘outcomes’) of the available treatments for single-sided deafness (SSD) inconsistently. The CROSSSD international initiative used structured communication techniques to achieve consensus among healthcare users and professionals working in the field. The product is a core outcome domain set that determines what is critically important to assess in all clinical trials of SSD interventions.

By involving healthcare users with experience in SSD treatments, audiologists, ENT surgeons, clinical researchers, and industry representatives; the CROSSSD study gathered international opinions via Delphi surveys and a web-based consensus meeting and found agreement on three measures that should always be reported on in SSD intervention studies. The core outcomes are (1) Spatial orientation, (2) Group conversations in noisy social situations, and (3) Impact on social situations.

If all future SSD intervention studies measure these core outcomes as a minimum, we can more easily compare results of different studies, improve research quality, and enhance clinical decision-making.

Further research is currently underway to help determine ‘how’ these core outcomes should best be measured.

 

 

 

 

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CUSP (Comparing oUtcomes for Severely and Profoundly deaf children)

Project lead: Derek Hoare

PhD student: Catherine Killan

Funder: NIHR Nottingham BRC and Cochlear

This project compared parent-reported listening, tinnitus, and listening fatigue outcomes for children with severe hearing loss using hearing aids to children using cochlear implants. It also helped understand which children were impacted by the 2019 NICE guidance on cochlear implantation and explored the impact of hearing devices on early educational outcomes.
A project to understand the impact of NICE guidance TAG566 (2019) on children with severe or profound hearing loss, by comparing outcomes for children with severe hearing loss using hearing aids and those for children with cochlear implants.
 

 

 

 

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Does the method matter? Investigating perceptual differences in hearing aid self-adjustment methods

Project leads: William Whitmer and Graham Naylor

PhD student: Janin Benecke

Funder: GN Hearing A/S

 

This project aims to explore ways to improve hearing aid personalisation by comparing psychophysical and behavioural aspects of hearing aid self-adjustment methods.
Conventional hearing aid fine-tuning relies on patients recalling and describing sound quality issues to clinicians. However, communication barriers and memory bias may render this practice ineffective. An alternative approach is to let patients adjust hearing aid settings themselves. Self-adjustment methods require mapping parameters to controls that are easily understood and perceptually relevant. This research investigates perceptual and operational aspects of different self-adjustment methods to assess their effects on self-adjustment choices and their effectiveness in hearing aid fine-tuning.
 

 

 

 

 

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Test methods for group conversation: Operationalising conversational success

Project leads: Lauren Hadley and Graham Naylor

PhD student: Raluca Nicoras

Funder: WSAudiology

A project dedicated to investigating the perception of conversation success as experienced by people with normal hearing and people with hearing loss in one-to-one and group conversations. 

 

 

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Towards self-management: an observational study of routine assessment and fitting audiology appointments

Project lead: Derek Haore

PhD student: Wasim Hussain

Funder: NIHR Nottingham BRC

Exploring self-management of hearing loss in routine audiology appointments to identify what skill-set and mind-set an individual requires to manage their hearing loss on a day to day basis.

Self-management of long-term conditions was shown to have positive clinical outcomes. However, this is under researched in the case of hearing loss.

This study aims to gain further knowledge on self-management of hearing loss, directly from people with hearing loss and hearing healthcare clinicians. To plan for optimal self-management, it is important to evaluate the extent to which audiology appointments address the elements of self-management that are identified as most important and valuable to the individual with hearing loss. This will allow us to consider the potential form and content of interventions to optimise appointments and promote successful self-management.

 

 

 
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Development and vaildation of a questionnaire to assess hyperacusis in young children

Project lead: Derek Hoare

PhD student: Iskra Potgieter

Funder: NIHR Nottingham BRC

This project seeks to obtain qualitative data on the lived experiences of children with hyperacusis; to develop a prototype questionnaire to assess hyperacusis in children; and to validate the hyperacusis questionnaire.

 

 

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Mother-Child Inter-Brain Synchrony during free play: An fNIRS hyperscanning study

Project lead: Douglas Hartley

PhD student: Efstratia Papoutselou

Funder: NIHR Nottingham BRC

We are investigating the neural mechanisms that support everyday interactions between mothers and children using a non-invasive and portable neuroimaging technique called functional near infrared spectroscopy.

 

 

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Neural markers of language processing in typically developed children and children with developmental language disorder (DLD)

Project lead: Douglas Hartley

PhD student: Efstratia Papoutselou

Funder: NIHR Nottingham BRC

We are exploring the neural networks supporting language processing in typical development and DLD. Our goal is to identify neural markers of atypical neural activity in children with DLD compared to typically developed children.  

 
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Understanding the consequences of recreational noise exposure

Project lead: Rebecca Dewey

Funder: Medical Research Council

Noise exposure can damage the cochlear nerve without immediately harming hearing, making it difficult to predict who will experience noise-induced hearing loss. This study uses MRI to understand the effects of noise exposure.
Noise exposure is the main cause of preventable hearing loss worldwide. Recent results suggest that even moderate noise exposure can cause substantial damage to the cochlear nerve, but it is not currently understood whether this damage extends further up the ascending auditory pathway. We can image the auditory pathway using MRI, including measures of the auditory nerve, and of nerve health and brain volume in the auditory brainstem and auditory cortex. We are conducting a large-scale study, recruiting 200 people, to investigate which of these many MRI measures are the best predictors of symptomatic noise-induced hearing loss.
 

 

 

 

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Are people with high schizotopy scores poor at auditory prediction?

Project lead: Joseph Sollini

Funder: Nottingham Research Fellowship

The purpose of this study is to investigate the relationship between schizotypal personality traits and auditory prediction. To do so, we use an auditory prediction task (Sollini et al. 2021) along with a questionairre based assesment of schizotopy (Mason & Claridge, 2006).

 

 
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Auditory cortical circuits of sound segregation

Project lead: Joseph Sollini

Funder: Nottingham Research Fellowship

Using optogenetics to functionally perturb parts of the auditory cortex (projection neurons) to understand the circuit for sequential and simultaneous sound segregation.

 

 
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Cadenza Challenge - Machine Learning Challenges to Improve Music Listening for People with Hearing Loss

Project leads: William Whitmer, Michael Akeroyd

Funder: EPSRC

The Cadenza project aims to better define what music personalised for someone with a hearing loss should sound like and exploit the latest in machine learning to create improved music listening experiences.​

How can we process and remix music so it sounds best for those with a hearing loss? The new Cadenza project aims to better define what music personalised for someone with a hearing loss should sound like and exploit the latest in machine learning to create improved music listening experiences. The improvement in music will be achieved by running a series of open competitions, which researchers from around the world will compete in. Competitors will be given music to enhance, through processing and/or remixing. They will be challenged to improve and personalise the music for listeners with hearing losses.

The Universities of Salford, Sheffield, Leeds and Nottingham have been awarded a grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to investigate adaptations to music for those with a hearing loss. The grant of £1.6 million is a collaborative partnership with industrial partners BBC R&D, Google and Logitech and user engagement via Royal National Institute for the Deaf (RNID).

 

 

 
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Clarity Challenge - Organising machine learning challenges for hearing aid processing

Project leads: Michael Akeroyd, Graham Naylor

Funder: EPSRC

The Clarity Challenges are designed to exploit the latest in machine learning to create improved listening experiences  for speech in noise when listening through a hearing aid.
The Clarity Project is a 5-year UKRI-funded research project involving four UK Universities and associated industrial partners. Our aim is to organise open "challenges" for hearing aid algorithms and to champion novel machine learning approaches to hearing aid speech-in-noise processing. These challenges will focus on speech-in-noise listening, a situation in which hearing aid users report the most dissatisfaction. For each challenge, we will be providing simulation tools, datasets and baseline systems. Our data and code will all be open-sourced, with the aim of lowering barriers that currently prevent speech and audio researchers from considering hearing impairment. Our funding is also allowing us to evaluate challenge submissions by running listening tests with hearing impaired listeners.
 

 

 

 

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COG-MHEAR: towards cognitively-inspired 5G-IoT enabled, multi-modal Hearing Aids

Project lead: Michael Akeroyd

Funder: EPSRC

COG-MHEAR is a 4-year programme that aims to revolutionise the way hearing aids are designed by not only amplifying sounds in the environment, but also by using visual information (such as lip movements) to improve speech clarity in noise
To transform hearing care by 2050, we aim to completely re-think the way HAs are designed. Our transformative approach - for the first time - draws on the cognitive principles of normal hearing. Listeners naturally combine information from both their ears and eyes: we use our eyes to help us hear. We will create "multi-modal" aids which not only amplify sounds but contextually use simultaneously collected information from a range of sensors to improve speech intelligibility. For example, a large amount of information about the words said by a person is conveyed in visual information, in the movements of the speaker's lips, hand gestures, and similar. This is ignored by current commercial HAs and could be fed into the speech enhancement process. We can also use wearable sensors (embedded within the HA itself) to estimate listening effort and its impact on the person, and use this to tell whether the speech enhancement process is actually helping or not. Creating these multi-modal "audio-visual" HAs raises many formidable technical challenges which need to be tackled holistically. Making use of lip movements traditionally requires a video camera filming the speaker, which introduces privacy questions. We can overcome some of these questions by encrypting the data as soon as it is collected, and we will pioneer new approaches for processing and understanding the video data while it stays encrypted. We aim to never access the raw video data, but still to use it as a useful source of information. To complement this, we will also investigate methods for remote lip reading without using a video feed, instead exploring the use of radio signals for remote monitoring. 
 

 

 

 

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Socioemotional Well-being As An Individual Factor In The Assessment And Amelioration Of Hearing Loss

Project lead: Jack Holman

Funder: Medical Research Foundation

Developing understanding and reliable measurement of individual socioemotional well-being differences for adults with hearing loss, with the aim of facilitating better assessment of individual needs and better outcomes.
The socioemotional consequences of hearing loss (and hearing-aid treatment) may play out differently for different people, dependent on their circumstances, personality, and daily activities. In this project we will help to identify individual differences in socioemotional well-being and the best way of measuring them. We will identify if existing measures can accurately and effectively measure the key components, and whether additional interventions could improve socioemotional well-being outcomes for those who need it. This project is the first step in developing understanding and interventions to increase the happiness and comfort of each person with hearing loss based on their individual needs.
 

 

 
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Development and evaluation of a digital intervention: Internet Self-Help, Understanding and Support for Hyperacusis (iSHUSH) 

Project lead: Kathryn Fackrell

Funder: NIHR Post-Doctoral Fellowship

The development and evaluation of a digital intervention for hyperacusis which incorporates adults living with hyperacusis and healthcare professionals experiences, challenges and views of hyperacusis, theory and evidence. 
The digital intervention aims to provide educational and self-help components to support adults experiencing hyperacusis. A advisory group for the project has been established to help guide the development and evaluation. To ensure acceptability, usability and feasibility of the intervention, interviews, surveys and piloting are being conducted throughout with the intended users (e.g., adults living with hyperacusis and healthcare professionals). 
 

 

 
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Emotional responses in daily-life listening situations for people with hearing loss, and emotional adaptation after a first hearing-aid fitting

Project leads: Graham Naylor and Jack Holman

Funder: Hearing Industry Research Consortium

We aim to better understanding of the specific causes of positive and negative emotional reactions to hearing-dependent situations and hearing devices.
Using research techniques such as semi-structured interviewing and smartphone based ecological momentary assessment we hope to pave the way for improved clinical assessment and counselling; provide narratives for efforts to promote the uptake of hearing help; identify situations which are especially likely to trigger negative emotions, enabling better targeting of interventions and setting of expectations; identify novel risk factors for the discontinuation of hearing aid use, and thereby inspire work to address those risks.
 

 

 

 

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Developing a questionnaire measure for use with children with hearing loss: YBHRQL-Y

Project leads: Sarah Somerset and Adam Pedley

Funder: NIHR

Developing, validating and scoring an adapted version of the YBHRQL, used in adults with severe and profound hearing loss.  Putting severe and profoundly deaf children at the heart of questionnaire development.  
We have taken an existing measure the York Binaural Hearing Related Quality of Life System (YBHRQL) and adapted the pre-existing domains for use with young people aged 8 to 16 years with a severe or profound hearing loss.  we have used the qualitative pre-test interview approach to put the young people at the heart of our questionnaire adaptation.  A questionnaire can only be as good as the questions it asks.  For these questions to be good they must be both relatable to those completing them and reliable.  We have adapted the existing measure with young people as co-experts.  We are now in the process of validation and scoring.  By developing our questionnaire in this way we have designed it to be a patient reported outcome measure (PROM) which means a health utility value can be calculated from it's score.  This in turn can then be used for health economic calculations of quality and costs associated with care participants receive.  This has been designed to be used in the wider BEARS trial.
 

 

 
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Understanding and alleviating hearing disability: the contribution of natural behaviours

Project lead: Graham Naylor

Funders: Medical Research Council, Chief Scientist Office

Major themes include (1) understanding how speaking and listening behaviours contribute to the complexity of our communication ecology, (2) refining real-life self-report measures and methods, (3) revealing how hearing device innovation can be made compatible with natural behaviour.
This programme ran from 2018-2022. We have published 45 papers so far. Despite pandemic restrictions, we have also developed online methodologies to innovatively address the communication difficulties people with hearing loss face on virtual platforms. From detailing the micro-behaviours in one-to-one conversations to reshaping our understanding of hearing healthcare, our programme has generated new insights and methods, and laid the groundwork for new models of hearing disability to incorporate natural behaviours.
 

 

 

 

 

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Incorporating active strategies in speech testing to predict communication performance

Project lead: Tim Beechey

Funder: Medical Research Foundation

This project investigates how the inclusion of active communication behaviours in hearing testing may affect measures of hearing impairment and device benefit and improve predictions of individual rehabilitation outcomes.
Conversation is central to humans’ capacity to communicate, maintain relationships, and fulfil requirements of daily living. A person’s capacity for successful spoken conversation relies on both hearing sensitivity and the use of active communication strategies, such as asking for repetitions or moving closer to a talker. This project incorporates active communication strategies into controlled assessment of speech comprehension to quantify the benefit of these strategies and the extent to which taking account of these strategies can improve the prediction of the impact of hearing impairment and amplification on speech understanding.
 

 

 

 

 

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Exploring the potential of large-scale routine clinical data in audiology

Project lead: Graham Naylor

Funders: Medical Research Council, Chief Scientist Office 

By interrogating the medical records of 700,000+ US Veterans, we discover relations between hearing-aid use and other health conditions, and learn about the utility of routine audiological data for research.
This is a collaboration with the National Center for Rehabilitative Auditory Research, Portland, Oregon, and the Manchester Biomedical Research Centre. We have scrutinised how the routine nature of the data collection affected its likely quality and structural characteristics, essential insights for anyone using such datasets in research. Using a novel measure of hearing-aid use persistence, we found several factors including prior in-patient care and multimorbidities to be predictive of persistence. We have also addressed the links between dementia and hearing-aid use. We have shown that (a) hearing-aid use reduces dementia risk and (b) dementia reduces hearing-aid use. These are the first quantitative results to demonstrate that cognitive decline leads to device disuse.
 

 

 

 
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Effectiveness and safety of different ear wax removal methods

Project leads: Derek Hoare, Magdalena Sereda

Funder: NIHR Nottingham BRC 

Assessing the currently available online information regarding microsuction and irrigation as wax removal methods and patient perspectives of these two methods.  

A build-up of earwax in the ear canal can cause hearing loss and discomfort and may contribute to infections. Irrigation and microsuction are two earwax removal methods available in the UK. The two methods differ in availability, contraindications, and cost. However, there is a lack of evidence comparing clinical and cost-effectiveness of these techniques.

In preparation for the future clinical trials, we are analysing the content and quality of the earwax removal websites and patients' experiences with each method shared within online forums. We are looking at preference for one method, pre- and post-treatment, outcomes and contraindications and complications.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hair cortisol: a potential biomarker for stress

Project leads: Sally Thornton, Derek Hoare

Funder: NIHR Nottingham BRC 

Stress could plausibly derive from a sensory deficit such as hearing loss (HL). Yet hair cortisol concentration (HCC) in association with stress, depression or anxiety has not been measured in people with HL. We are measuring HCC alongside symptoms of anxiety, stress, depression in participants with and without HL.
Currently we are: 1) prospectively assessing HCC in people with and without HL, and; 2) investigating associations between HCC and psychological responses, as well as; 3) piloting paediatric work to assess if it's feasible to assess HCC in children.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hearing Sciences

Mental Health & Clinical Neuroscience
School of Medicine
University of Nottingham
Medical School, QMC
Nottingham, NG7 2UH


telephone: University Park +44 (0) 115 74 86900
Ropewalk House +44 (0) 115 82 32600
Glasgow +44 (0) 141 242 9665
email: hearing-research@nottingham.ac.uk