Groundbreaking Research Discovers Previously Unknown Function in the Ear That Delivers Vital Information to the Brain

Somerset, NJ
18 October 2018

Findings may help professionals learn more about individual hearing loss, lead to more precise diagnostic equipment and revolutionize personalized hearing aids

A research study¹ published in Science Communications, a leading peer-reviewed journal, has discovered a previously undiscovered mechanism in the ear processing speech. The research, conducted by researchers from Oticon and Interacoustics in an international team, revealed another function in the inner ear that detects the acoustic details in speech before it is converted into information for the brain.

To understand speech, vital acoustic details enable us to distinguish words. Only a small amount of this detail is needed for speech recognition but to date, the mechanism used by the auditory system to extract the detail was not known. The new revelation is an important addition to understanding how the inner ear and our sense of hearing work. It may allow professionals to more precisely individualize hearing loss diagnosis and could spearhead the development of better personalized hearing aids to support the brain.

The groundbreaking physiological paper, 'A mechanoelectrical mechanism for detection of sound envelopes in the hearing organ', is the result of a study spanning nine years. The research was initiated in 2009 by three principal researchers, including Thomas Lunner, PhD, professor and Research Area Manager, Cognitive Hearing Science, Eriksholm, part of Oticon. James Harte, PhD, Director, Interacoustics Research Unit, part of William Demant, quickly became involved in the study, which concluded as a collaboration among no fewer than 13 prominent physicists and inner ear researchers from five countries.

Thomas Lunner comments: "We are now able to better understand a part of the hearing system that was not known before. Sound travels through the ear as mechanical waves, which is then translated into electrical pulses for the brain by the outer and inner hair cells. To date, it has only been possible to diagnose the health of outer hair cells, for example, in newborn screening. This research could make the first methods to diagnose the health of inner hair cells possible, which has the potential to improve individualized hearing aid processing to better support brain functions, ultimately reducing the effort placed on the brain to understand sound."

The new research may pave the way for exciting, completely original tools for diagnosis of hearing loss. Publication of the study results in a renowned international journal of science that exclusively recognizes revolutionary studies is a testament to the significance of this discovery for the future of hearing study, diagnosis and technology evolutions.

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About Oticon
500 million people worldwide suffer from hearing loss. The majority are over the age of 50 while eight percent are under the age of 18. It is Oticon's ambition that our customers — hearing clinics throughout the world — prefer to use our products for people with impaired hearing. Through passion, dedication and professional expertise, Oticon develops and manufactures hearing aids for both adults and children. Oticon supports every kind of hearing loss from mild to severe and we pride ourselves on developing some of the most innovative hearing aids in the market. Oticon is dedicated to the study of the important role the brain plays in giving sound meaning. Our pioneering BrainHearing™ research influences our fundamental understanding of how hearing works and the way we approach hearing loss; we think brain first. Headquartered out of Denmark, we are a global company and part of William Demant Group with more than 13,000 employees and revenues of over DKK 13 billion.

¹A mechanoelectrical mechanism for detection of sound envelopes in the hearing organ