UCL News


UCL Press Invite: An Ear to the Future

28 April 2006

Ear experts from around the world are meeting at UCL (University College London) to discuss the latest on tinnitus, brain deafness, genes linked to our hearing and the role of free radicals in hearing loss from noise, medication and ageing.

New research being presented includes a study of the high numbers of Bangladeshi children in East London who are deaf, and live image guided surgery to help surgeons navigate through the body's tissues with precision.


UCL Conference: An Ear to the Future
Date: Thursday 4th and Friday 5th May 2006
Venue: UCL Ear Institute, Gray's Inn Road, London

The meeting will mark the opening of the UCL Centre for Auditory Research, based at the UCL Ear Institute and paid for by a Wellcome Trust grant. A series of talks will set out our current understanding of the structure and workings of the ear and the different types of ear disorders, while new research will be presented in poster sessions held on both days of the symposium. New research carried out by UCL researchers includes:

Higher prevalence of deafness found in Bangladeshi children in East London

(Dr Maria Bitner-Glindzicz, UCL Ear Institute and UCL Institute of Child Health)

One in a thousand children will suffer hearing loss by the age of three. The cause is mostly genetic and the risk increases in consanguineous (blood-related) marriages due to recessive genes. A 1993 study found that deafness in Tower Hamlets in East London was three times the national average and attributed this to the high rates of cousin marriage among the Bangladeshi population; in this borough, nearly half of school pupils were of Bangladeshi origin and the incidence of deafness was higher in this group.

The new study, which reviewed 104 Bangladeshi families living in East London with deaf children under the age of 16, found four in 1,000 children to suffer from deafness compared with the UK average of around 1.5 in 1,000 children of the same age group (i.e. 2.5 times greater). Parental consanguinity was common (for 36 per cent of children) but could not completely account for the higher prevalence of deafness, where adverse social and economic factors may also play a part. For example, the borough of Tower Hamlets is ranked as the 4th most deprived out of 384 in the country, has the 5th lowest male life expectancy of all local authorities, and is overcrowded (10,462 people per square kilometre compared with 4,679 for the region and 380 for England overall).

Nevertheless, the authors recommend that genetic testing and counselling be offered early to this rapidly growing population, where consanguinity is common and birth rates are high.

Live image guided surgery (with demonstration)

(Professor Alf Linney, UCL Ear Institute)

UCL researchers have developed 3-D software which creates 'virtual patients' to rehearse surgery and customise implants. A further system developed at UCL enables the surgeon to see fused images of the real patient and the virtual patient during surgery. The images are stereoscopic, effectively giving the surgeon 'X-ray eyes' to see both the patient's tissues and what lies below them. The positions of surgical instruments are also tracked in real time so that the surgeon can see their precise position in relation to critical structures such as nerves and blood vessels.

Fitting a cochlear implant jointly with a hearing aid

(Dr Andrew Faulkner, UCL Department of Phonetics and Linguistics)

New research points to the need to improve methods of adjusting cochlear implants and hearing aids when these are used together. Failing to do this can result in mismatches between the hearing that each provides, and make listeners struggle to understand speech.

Notes for Editors:

1. For more information, please contact Jenny Gimpel at the UCL Media Relations Office on tel: +44 (0)20 7679 9739, mobile: +44 (0)7990 675 947, out-of-hours +44 (0)7917 271 364, e-mail: j.gimpel@ucl.ac.uk.

2. The conference, An Ear to the Future, will be held on Thursday 4th and Friday 5th May 2006 at the UCL Ear Institute, Gray's Inn Road, London. Journalists who wish to attend the conference should contact the UCL Media Relations Office.

3. Electronic copies of the conference programme, including abstracts of the talks and posters, can be obtained from the UCL Media Relations Office, details as above.