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Artificial intelligence could improve children’s hearing

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Professor Douglas Hartley

Research Lead for Objective Measures at NIHR Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre

Hearing problems can profoundly affect our personal, social and working lives. Collaboration between scientists and clinicians can help translate the latest research into new treatments and therapies for hearing loss.

The cochlear implant has restored hearing to hundreds of thousands of deaf people worldwide, to the point where users can understand speech without the need to lip-read.

Implants are currently aimed at individuals with severe-to-profound hearing loss in both ears. Research is examining the case for using double implants in adults and using artificial intelligence to understand why there is such variation in children’s development after implants.

How cochlear implants work in adults and infants

Listeners with normal hearing use two ears to hear, particularly in the presence of background noise. For this reason, deaf children are provided with implants in both ears. However, adults only receive one. New clinical trials are being designed to examine the benefits of implanting adults in both ears1.

The UK’s universal neonatal hearing screening programme has enhanced the early detection of hearing loss among newborn babies. Early intervention with implants has been proven to maximise their ability to develop spoken language and access mainstream education. However, despite early intervention with implants, some children do not do as well as others. Novel neuroimaging techniques and artificial intelligence can identify children who will need extra help, based on their brain responses. This data will help to provide personalised therapies that are tailored to individual needs2.

1: Kitterick, P.T., O’Donoghue, G., Twomey, T., Walker, D.M., Hardwick, B., Smyth, M., Jones, A., Clayton, D. (2019). FOUNDATION study: Feasibility of conducting a randomised control trial to examine the benefit of bilateral cochlear implantation compared with unilateral cochlear implantation in adults with severe to profound deafness. 2: Anderson, C. A., Wiggins, I. M., Kitterick, P. T., & Hartley, D. E. (2017). Adaptive benefit of cross-modal plasticity following cochlear implantation in deaf adults. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(38), 10256-10261.

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