UT Dallas Researchers Win $2.4-Million Grant
to Develop Test for Hearing-Impaired Children Diagnostic Tool Could Determine Need for Hearing Aid or Implant

Dr. Anu SharmaRICHARDSON, Texas (June 10, 2004) – Researchers at The University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) Callier Center for Communication Disorders have received a $2.4-million federal grant to develop a diagnostic technique to help doctors determine which hearing-impaired children will have greater benefit from a hearing aid or a cochlear implant.

A cochlear implant is a device that is surgically inserted into the inner ear to electrically stimulate the auditory pathways, thus providing sound to deaf individuals.

Dr. Anu Sharma, an associate professor at Callier’s Advanced Hearing Research Center (AHRC), received funding for a five-year study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Sharma, who heads the Auditory Cortical Function Laboratory at UTD, will lead a team of researchers from UTD, Arizona State University, The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas and Emory University. The team will evaluate diagnostic hearing techniques and validate the techniques against measures of speech development and standard measures of clinical care.

“Medical science today does not have sufficient tools to help parents of hearing-impaired infants and their doctors make informed decisions regarding some possible courses of treatment,” said Sharma. “And yet the choice of utilizing a hearing aid or an implanted device is perhaps the most crucial decision in the lives of such children.”

Sharma proposes using an electroencephalogram (EEG) to monitor brain activity in response to sounds in children who have moderate-to-severe hearing loss and in children with more profound hearing loss who receive cochlear implants. An algorithm will then be applied to the results to determine if a patient is showing suitable progress under an existing treatment plan. In addition, the children will be monitored to measure their communication development.

The half-hour test – technically known as cortical evoked potentials – would be completely painless and eventually could be administered in a doctor’s office, Sharma said.

“By taking periodic measurements with an EEG, we hope to be able to determine if a child’s brain is maturing sufficiently following an appropriate hearing aid trial,” said Sharma. “And if not, we expect to be able to determine whether implantation of a cochlear device would be more efficacious.

“The central question we hope to answer is ‘which children need a cochlear implant?’”

According to Sharma, the stakes of such a choice are high – there is a window of opportunity for auditory development in children that is critical for the normal development of speech and language skills. In earlier, related research – also funded by NIH – Sharma and other researchers found that deaf children have the best chance of acquiring hearing, speech and language skills if they receive a cochlear implant by three and one-half years of age.

It was in that earlier study, released in December of 2002, that researchers first utilized an EEG to study the brain activity of children and teenagers who received a cochlear implant. That same measurement technique now will be employed in the new study to determine the effectiveness of different treatments.

“Based on our earlier research, we now know what to look for in terms of brain wave patterns in such patients,” Sharma said. “I am cautiously optimistic that such a test will produce results that will help parents and physicians make educated decisions about potential interventions.”

Also involved in the research project will be Dr. Emily Tobey, professor and Nelle C. Johnston Chair at Callier AHRC; Dr. Peter Roland, professor and head of the Department of Otolaryngology at U. T. Southwestern Medical Center; Dr. Paul Bauer, assistant professor at U.T. Southwestern; Dr. Michael Dorman, professor at Arizona State University; and Dr. Wendell Todd of Emory University.

Because about one percent of all newborns have some hearing difficulty, the successful development of a new diagnostic tool for such patients could have widespread implications for medical science and the field of audiology, Sharma said.

“One of the goals of providing hearing intervention is to improve a child’s ability to communicate,” said Tobey. “Therefore, it is very important to monitor communication development and determine which device is most effective for a given child.”

“This work is extremely gratifying because of its potentially life-changing nature,” Sharma said. “It’s wonderful to think we may be able give parents and doctors the information they need to help improve a child’s life.”

UTD’s audiology program is perennially rated one of the top such programs in the nation. This spring, it was ranked fifth in the country by U.S. News & World Report magazine.

About UTD

The University of Texas at Dallas, located at the convergence of Richardson, Plano and Dallas in the heart of the complex of major multinational technology corporations known as the Telecom Corridor®, enrolls more than 13,700 students. The school’s freshman class traditionally stands at the forefront of Texas state universities in terms of average SAT scores. The university offers a broad assortment of bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs. For additional information about UTD, please visit the university’s web site at www.utdallas.edu.