Dr Julia Wunderlich
Dr Wunderlich (BSc (Hons), PGDip, PhD) has spent most of her career as a hospital-based paediatric audiologist and has now brought that clinical expertise as a full-time Senior Clinical Research Fellow at the Bionics Institute.
Julia has been collaborating with the Institute since 2018, as part of the EarGenie™ team led by Prof Colette McKay. With a PhD in auditory system development and over 35 years’ experience as a paediatric audiologist, Julia has been developing a new clinical system to address some of the most difficult issues facing children who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Currently, 10 percent of babies born with a permanent hearing issue will be diagnosed with auditory neuropathy. In this condition, part of the cochlea functions normally but transmission of sound information to the brain is disordered and speech understanding is compromised. Current clinical audiology tests do not provide accurate measurement of a baby’s hearing ability when they have auditory neuropathy.
As an audiologist, Julia knows how important it is to provide parents with a definitive answer about what their baby can and cannot hear. The right clinical tools are needed to provide an answer as early as possible, so that the appropriate hearing device can be chosen and effective early intervention started. Having seen how distressing it is when the right tools are lacking, her motivation is to create a new device that can provide the answers and to get it into the audiology clinic for daily use.
EarGenie™ is well on the way to being that new clinical tool, allowing accurate measurement of hearing ability in all babies, including those with auditory neuropathy. It measures how blood oxygen level changes in a baby’s brain when they process sounds, using a technique called functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS). Julia is excited that, as part of this innovative development team, she has helped to create a test of speech discrimination with over 95% accuracy. Realising Julia’s dream of introducing EarGenie into the audiology clinic will take further work, but plans for commercialisation are now well underway.
The Bionics Institute is a place where basic science is translated into real-world solutions. It’s a place where scientists and clinicians bring together years of experience and their amazing talents to solve clinical problems. I love that focus, of bringing new solutions and ideas to problems. That focus and depth of knowledge enriches my clinical practice as well – it is just magic! One of the most exciting things about working on the Bionics Institute’s EarGenie ™ project is the prospect of having a new clinical tool to put into audiological practice. Dr Julia Wunderlich