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A woman in a audiology lab smiles while answering a question.

More than just sound: NEOMED’s research on hearing disorders and communication

Katelyn was born about four weeks prematurely.

Though she passed a newborn hearing screen, she would later be diagnosed with enlarged vestibular aqueduct and mild cochlear dysplasia.

EVA is a congenital condition. Some children with EVA have hearing loss from birth; in most cases though, hearing loss is progressive.

Such was the case for Katelyn. By the time she was six, her family noticed she was behind in her speech and she seemed to be having some hearing issues. In fact, at the time of her diagnosis, she had mild-to-moderate hearing loss in both ears.

Because of her hearing loss, she had difficulty participating in some sports. She began to withdraw from conversations after continually asking people to repeat themselves.

Things got worse when she reached high school. Her audiologist recommended that it might be time for hearing aids.

“It helped me tremendously,” Katelyn said. “I could finally hear the leaves rustling and the birds chirping in the morning, which was such a huge deal for me.”

Finding Solutions Through Research

More than 1.5 billion people worldwide report some trouble with hearing. About 25% of American adults experience some form of hearing loss.

Sometimes the cause of hearing loss is congenital, as was the case with Katelyn. Sometimes, it’s a result of prolonged exposure to loud noise, trauma, an infection or a number of different causes.

Whatever the cause, a group of researchers at NEOMED is looking for solutions.

The Hearing Research Focus Area at NEOMED explores how the ear and the brain function in association with hearing and communication across the lifespan, how they are affected by hearing disorders, and how they may be manipulated to prevent or treat these disorders. Studies often are conducted at the cellular and molecular level.

The research group includes nine laboratories studying auditory processing. While each lab has a particular focus, they often collaborate across projects. Published, peer-reviewed research from the labs has been cited thousands of times, advancing auditory neuroscience.

“It’s really exciting when you can actually make an impact via basic science research that can have an implication for helping people’s health,” said Merri Rosen, Ph.D., director of the Hearing Research Focus Area and associate professor of neurobiology.


Watch: Dr. Rosen discusses the work of the Hearing Research Focus Area