Research Discovers an Unknown Function in the Ear Delivering Vital Information to the Brain

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Collaborative research featuring authors from William Demant could help professionals learn more about hearing loss, lead to more precise diagnostic equipment and revolutionize personalised hearing aids.

We are pleased to share the groundbreaking results of a research article which demonstrate a previously undiscovered mechanism in the ear processing speech. The study, featuring researchers from Oticon and Interacoustics in an international team, have been recognized and presented in the world leading peer-reviewed scientific journal, Nature Communications.

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. This unique research reveals another function in the inner ear that detects the acoustic details in speech before it is converted into information for the brain. This new revelation is an important addition to our understanding of how the inner ear and our sense of hearing work. It may allow professionals to more precisely individualise hearing loss diagnosis and could spearhead the development of better personalised hearing aids to support the brain.

The new groundbreaking physiological paper; ‘A mechanoelectrical mechanism for detection of sound envelopes in the hearing organ’, is the result of a study spanning 9 years. The exciting and revealing research article was instigated back in 2009 by three principal researchers, including Thomas Lunner from Eriksholm Research Centre, part of Oticon. James Harte from Interacoustics, part of William Demant also quickly became involved in the study, which in fact concluded as a collaboration between no less than 13 prominent physicists and inner ear researchers, from five countries.

Thomas Lunner, PhD, professor and Research Area Manager, Cognitive Hearing Science, Eriksholm, part of Oticon & Fellow of William Demant 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.”

This new research may pave the way for exciting, completely original tools for diagnosis of hearing loss. To have the results published in the renowned international journal of science which 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. Headquartered out of Denmark, we are a global company and part of William Demant Holding Group with more than 12,000 employees and revenues of over DKK 12 billion.

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