UCL News


An Ear to the Future

5 May 2006

An Ear to the Future, the first symposium hosted by the UCL Centre for Auditory Research, closes today.

Over the past two days, ear experts from around the world have presented the latest developments in tinnitus, brain deafness and how genetics can affect our hearing, among others. New research from a team led by Dr Andrew Faulkner, UCL Phonetics and Linguistics, provides hope for people with a hearing aid and cochlear implant fitted in the same ear.

Speech recognition can be a major problem for people with both a hearing aid and an implant in one ear, as middle-frequency sound can fall into a "hole" beyond the range of both instruments. However, Matthew Smith, a PhD student in the team, has demonstrated that neighbouring parts of the ear can be trained to interpret this sound.

"We simulated the condition by removing the middle frequency from a voice, then used this to read stories to normally-hearing people and asked them to recite them back to us, " Dr Faulkner explained. After only six hours' training, speech recognition had improved considerably.

Professor Alf Linney of the UCL Ear Institute gave a demonstration of surgery guided by live images, using the latest advances made by his team. Their development of the "virtual patient" - images of patient anatomy created using 3D software - can enhance live images of the real patient, effectively providing X-ray eyes when these are fused. As a result, surgeons can see a patient's tissues as well as what lies beneath them, and the position of surgical instruments in relation to critical structures such as nerves and blood vessels.

Virtual patients are ideal for use during surgical training, as surgeons can "dissect" a patient, rehearse surgery and customise implants without touching a scalpel.

The Centre for Auditory Research is part of the UCL Ear Institute, which was formally opened on 3 May 2006 by George Martin, the celebrated Beatles producer who suffers from noise-induced deafness. The UCL Ear Institute brings together at UCL the largest group of hearing researchers anywhere in Europe.