EarGenie™: Personalised management of hearing impairment for infants

Background

Many children with a hearing disability will start their educational journey a long way behind their classmates – a gap that starts in infancy and that puts them at a life-long disadvantage in terms of social, educational, career and employment opportunities. We know that early access to hearing is crucial for the development of the brain networks that are involved in language perception and production. There are early intervention treatments such as hearing aids and cochlear implants (bionic ears), however, the results are “hit and miss” and vary greatly from child to child. About 1 in 3 children with cochlear implants have poor speech understanding and suffer delayed language development. These infants can’t tell their audiologist that their hearing devices aren’t working so the problem goes undiagnosed until much later in life – when it’s too late.​

Our research

The Bionics Institute is working on a solution for these children by applying our deep knowledge developed through our decades of bionic ear research. Our Translational Hearing Research Program leader, Professor Colette McKay, is using a technique called functional near-infrared spectroscopy or fNIRS to see how the brain responds to hearing inputs through the use of light sources and detectors which are placed in a cap on the head. We will be able to see how infants’ brains are responding to their hearing device and tailor it to their individual needs.

Our goal is to develop a new clinical system, EarGenie™, for personalised management of hearing impairment that aims to optimise language development. EarGenie™ will use several measures of neural activity including fNIRS brain imaging, to perform a detailed diagnostic evaluation of a child’s hearing. At diagnosis, EarGenie™ will enable a more accurate and complete hearing assessment so that an appropriate hearing device can be confidently selected, evaluated and fine-tuned to optimise each child’s hearing. It will also enable clinicians to evaluate a child’s language development, guiding device choice and adjustments and allowing individualised language therapies.

This research will ensure a future in which all hearing impaired infants will maximise their opportunity for normal language and brain development.

Research team

Principal researchersProf Colette McKay, Dr Hamish Innes-Brown, Dr Mehrnaz Shoushtarian 

Funding

The Garnett Passe and Rodney Williams Memorial Foundation

BioMedTech Horizons Program

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