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Auditory Brainstem Implants help deaf children hear

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Hearing experts are breaking sound barriers for children born without hearing nerve with auditory brainstem implants.

Launched in March 2014, the research is being carried out during a three-year clinical trial by a multi-institutional team of communication and hearing specialists led by the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California (USC).

The preliminary findings of the research were presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences 2015 Annual Meeting in San Jose, California, on February 14.

So far, four children born without a hearing nerve have been successfully implanted with an auditory brainstem implant (ABI) device.

The ABI is deemed a revolutionary step because it stimulates neurons directly at the brainstem, entirely bypassing the inner ear.

“It goes in deeper to the nervous system and gives a more scrambled pattern of information to the brain,” said Keck School of Medicine of USC Professor Robert Shannon.

People born without a cochlear, or hearing, nerve are unable to perceive sound.

“Initial activation of the ABI is like a newborn entering the world and hearing for the first time, which means these children will need time to learn to interpret what they are sensing through the device as ‘sound,'” said study co-leader Laurie Eisenberg, a Keck School of Medicine of USC otolaryngology professor.

“All of our study participants whose ABIs have been activated are progressing at expected or better rates. We are optimistic that, with intensive training and family support, these children will eventually be able to talk on the phone.”

ABI surgeries have been taking place outside the US for over 10 years, but never under regulatory oversight.

The clinical trial will try to prove that the procedure is safe for young children and give researchers an insight in how the brain develops over time.


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