NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. A Rutgers University team led by neuroscientist Robin Davis is opening new doors to improved hearing for the congenitally or profoundly deaf. Their findings could lead to a new generation of cochlear implants.
Cochlear implants today operate with varying degrees of success in different patients. Some may be able to hear sounds like the rush of traffic or the crash of thunder. Others can do even better, detecting voice and understanding speech while still being unable to appreciate music. With the latest research, across-the-board improvement may be within reach.
Davis work is important for engineers and surgeons in designing new cochlear implants. The significance of our work lies in the fact that we can change an element in a very peripheral part of the sensory system that can have an impact all the way into the brain, Davis said.
Cochlear implants, also known as bionic ears, are surgically inserted into the snail-shell shaped structure the cochlea within the inner ear. Ordinarily, hair cells line the cochlea and convert acoustic signals into electrical signals that nerves then carry to the brain. Where some hair cells exist, sounds can be amplified with a hearing aid. Where the hair cells are missing or damaged a condition generally associated with severe hearing impairment an implant may be used to replace their function.
Davis, a professor in the Department of Cell Biology and Neuroscience of Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences, works with mouse cochlear tissue cultured in the laboratory. The spiraled cochlea is unwound and laid out in a line. Davis described the hair cells as being analogous to the keys of a piano and the nerves to which they attach the spiral ganglion neurons that connect to the brain are the pianos strings.
Our studies have revealed that spiral ganglion auditory neurons possess a rich complexity that is only now beginning to be understood, said Davis.
|Contact: Joseph Blumberg|