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Dr. Judy Dubno

The Hearing Research Program: Good Vibrations

The Hearing Research Program includes clinical and basic scientists from many disciplines. It has grown to include more than 30 faculty and staff, most of whom are based in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery and the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine.  The central theme and research focus is auditory neuroscience, with an emphasis on the aging auditory system. 

Some of the basic science research in our Hearing Research Program is focused on the mechanisms that result in inner ear and auditory nerve damage. For example, research directed by Lisa Cunningham studies certain proteins that occur naturally in the body, which may inhibit or prevent damage to the inner ear caused by exposure to ototoxic drugs or noise. Research directed by Hainan Lang studies how proteins in spiral ganglion nerve cells help maintain a stable, constant level of calcium to reduce overactivity or damaging effects from certain substances.  New studies with adult bone marrow stem cells are aimed at replacing or regenerating damaged cochlear cells.
The Hearing Research Program includes a large number of clinical studies of hearing focusing on declines in hearing due to aging.  For the past 21 years, we have developed a database of measures of hearing function from nearly 1,000 participants from the Charleston area.  This is a longitudinal study of hearing, where the same measures are obtained from our participants every 2-3 years, in addition to yearly visits (Lois Matthews and Fu-Shing Lee).   In addition to measures of hearing, with our participants’ permission, we obtain DNA and a detailed family history to determine if certain genes or gene mutations are associated with age-related hearing loss.

Some of our research focuses on hearing aids (Jayne Ahlstrom, Amy Horwitz).  Our studies are aimed at understanding why people do not achieve benefit from hearing aids, so that better technology can be developed or better rehabilitation programs can be designed to allow people to understand the speech they are now able to hear. 

The newest part of our program uses brain imaging to study the human auditory system (Mark Eckert).  These studies use MRI to examine brain structure and functional MRI to examine brain activation while listening to speech.  We will also be using brain imaging to study changes in brain activation that occur after using hearing aids.  Kelly Harris is combining brain imaging with recordings of electrical activity along the scalp produced by the firing of neurons within the brain (as in an EEG) to understand changes in the processing of sounds that occur with aging. 

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