Three areas of ongoing research from around the world.
Hearing Aids of the Future Uses Brainwaves to Isolate a Single Speaker
Current hearing aid technology lacks the precision to isolate the voice of the individual speaking directly to the hearing aid user. At best, it can suppress background noise or amplify the voice of the loudest person in the room. Scientists at the Dutch research university KU Leuven are using electroencephalograms (EEGs) to try and change that. Using brainwaves from an EEG, artificial intelligence software can read the brain’s electrical impulses and determine the individual’s listening direction. This technology is still in its infancy; it will take years to develop hearing aids with the technology to read brainwaves.
Geirnaert S, Francart T, & Bertrand A. (2021). Fast EEG-based decoding of the directional focus of auditory attention using common spatial patterns. IEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering, 68(5), 1557-1558. https://doi.org/10.1109/TBME.2020.3033446
Machine Learning and Non-Invasive Brain Imaging Quantifies Tinnitus Severity
A non-invasive, non-radioactive imaging technique known as functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) can be used to track activity in areas of the brain previously linked to tinnitus. Through this technique, researchers have noted a difference between the neural activity of individuals with and without tinnitus. Using machine learning, scientists in Melbourne can now differentiate patients with slight to moderate tinnitus from those with moderate to severe tinnitus with 87.32% accuracy. This could help clinicians develop new treatments in the future.
Shoushtarian M, Alizadehsani R, Khosravi A, Acevedo N, McKay CM, Nahavandi S, Fallon JB. (2020) Objective measurement of tinnitus using functional near-infrared spectroscopy and machine learning. PLoS ONE, 15(11). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0241695
Synchrotron System Reveals What It Looks Like Deep in Our Ears
It has proven historically difficult to study the micro-anatomy of the inner ear. However, researchers in Saskatchewan, Canada, are using new technology to depict this structure three-dimensionally. Using a synchrotron system, one of eight worldwide, it is possible to create pictures of even the tiniest parts of inner ear anatomy. By understanding these auditory organs, we can gain clarity on diseases such as Meniere’s disease, sudden hearing loss, tinnitus, and more. However, it is not yet possible to use this technology on living patients as the radiation levels are too high.Mei X, Glueckert R, Schrott-Fischer A, Li H, Ladak HM, Agrawak SK, Rask-Anderson H (2020). Vascular supply of the human spiral ganglion: Novel three-dimensional analysis using synchrotron phase-contrast imaging and histology. Scientific Reports, 10, 5877. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-62653-0