We just got back from our annual California Academy of Audiology convention that took place in Anaheim. This is an excellent time for us to network with audi- ologists from all over the state and to hear about the exciting advances in hearing science and technology.
I always feel so energized about the profession of Audiology and hopeful for the future after our convention. I want to share with you some of the research pre- sented at the conference so that you can share in the excitement.
There are several causes of ac- quired hearing loss today and audi- ologists can monitor hearing but we don’t have the ability to prevent the loss. Exposure to loud noise is the most common reason for acquired hearing loss but also there are med- ications or therapies that people must take that can damage their hearing. Aminoglycoside antibiotics used for serious infections and cis- platin used in some chemotherapy are known ototoxic (meaning damaging to the ears) agents. Kath- leen Campbell, Ph.D. Professor of Audiology at Southern Illinois Uni- versity School of Medicine pre- sented her research on D-methionine, an agent she has been using to protect the inner ear from destruction due to noise or ototoxic medications. She is organizing Phase II trials in the U.S. and the results are looking very promising.
Fan-gang Zang, Ph.D. of Univer- sity of California, Irvine presented his discussion on tinnitus and a new therapy that he is helping to develop. At least 50 million Ameri- cans have some kind of tinnitus, which is explained as a perception of sound in the head when no ex- ternal sound is present. We know that tinnitus does not occur in the ear but in the brain and Dr. Zang explained that most parts of the brain are involved in perpetuating tinnitus. He has been active in de- veloping Soundcure a sound ther- apy device for people who are suffering from their tinnitus.
In addition to hearing from speakers with years of experi- ence, we also had students in doctoral programs in Audiology presenting their research. This year we heard two presenta- tions; one on factors affecting speech understanding in multi- talker situations and one titled “Neurogenic capacity of non- sensory epithelial cells in the mouse cochlea.” I promise to explain that further in just a minute.
First, in the speech understand- ing study, the student was see- ing what factors influence a person’s ability to understand speech in a two talker and four talker scenario. She looked at cognitive ability, auditory factors and age. For the two-talker situation, she found that people with adequate high frequency amplification (there’s a plug to wear your hearing aids!) were able to distinguish one voice from another best when the voices were different in pitch. She also found that those with faster processing ability did bet-
ter which shows that we really hear with our brains and not our ears. However, in the four-talker scenario the only factor that was statistically significant was age – younger people understood speech better than older people.
The second student has been conducting research to see if a catalyst put into the cochlea in an embryonic state can make sup- porting cells turn into nerve cells. If a therapy can be developed to generate better neural function in humans in utero or shortly after birth then hearing function may be restored in children develop- ing with insufficient nerve func- tion in the inner ear. We heard that support cells could be changed into functioning nerve cells in a mouse cochlea – an exciting development.
This is a very small space to ex- plain a lot of information, please feel free to ask me or Julie more about the exciting developments in hearing science when you see us again