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Release: July 17, 2001

UI Cochlear Implant Clinical Research Center receives $9.8 million grant from NIH

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communications Disorders (NICDC) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded the University of Iowa a $9.8 million, five-year competitive grant renewal for the UI Cochlear Implant Clinical Research Center.

The center, which was established at the UI more than 20 years ago, has developed into the nation's, and arguably the world's, premier center for cochlear implant clinical research.

Damage to inner ear structures cause profound hearing loss. Cochlear implants are devices that take the place of these damaged structures. The implant consists of a microphone that picks up sound, a speech processor that translates sound waves into electrical signals, a transmitter and an implanted electrode. The electrode component decodes and distributes the electrical signal along the cochlear nerve, which transmits the information to the brain where it is perceived as sound.

Bruce J. Gantz, M.D., the Brian F. McCabe Distinguished Chair and UI professor and head of otolaryngology – head and neck surgery, has been director of the UI Cochlear Implant Clinical Research Center since its inception. Richard S. Tyler, Ph.D., UI professor of otolaryngology and speech pathology and audiology, and Jay T. Rubenstein, M.D., Ph.D., UI associate professor of otolaryngology and physiology and biophysics, are co-directors of the center.

"The multi-dimensional nature of the research we do here makes this center unique," Gantz said. "Researchers from disciplines as diverse as otolaryngology, speech pathology and audiology, physiology and biophysics, and music collaborate on many projects aimed at advancing cochlear implant research."

The projects that will be funded with this grant highlight the multidisciplinary nature of the research conducted at the center.

One major research focus will be to refine the criteria used to identify patients who would benefit from a cochlear implant. These devices have proved to be extremely successful for profoundly deaf individuals. However, advances in technology have improved speech perception with the implants to the point where researchers believe that individuals with some residual hearing would also benefit from this device.

"We would like to explore providing this technology to people who would not previously have been considered for a cochlear implant," Gantz said.

Another project will investigate strategies to accurately measure the residual hearing level of congenitally deaf infants. Studies have shown that good hearing in very young infants is critical to normal language development. Therefore, early identification and subsequent correction of hearing problems either with a cochlear implant or a hearing aid is very important.

The grant will also fund further studies of a new type of cochlear implant developed at the UI, which recently received approval for a feasibility study from the Food and Drug Administration. The new implant preserves residual inner ear function of the patient. It combines the electrical speech processing ability of cochlear implants with normal hearing.

Several studies will investigate ways to improve the signal processing abilities of cochlear implants for both speech and music. In one of these studies, researchers from the UI departments of music, otolaryngology and physiology and biophysics will collaborate to develop signal processing, which will allow cochlear implant recipients to hear music.

"Music and speech contain very different spectrums of sound information," Gantz explained. "Current cochlear implants do not do a good job of allowing people with implants to hear music, which is an important component of many cultures."

Some 16 years after receiving their first grant from the NIDCD, this award is the fourth installment of federal funding for the UI Cochlear Implant Clinical Research Center. The grant
will see the center though its 21st year of funding. Including this grant, the center has garnered nearly $28 million in funding from the NIDCD.

In addition to Gantz, Rubenstein and Tyler, the other principal investigators on this grant include Paul J. Abbas, Ph.D., UI professor of speech pathology and audiology; Carolyn J. Brown, Ph.D., UI associate professor of speech pathology and audiology; Kay E. Gfeller, Ph.D., UI professor of music; Bruce J. Tomblin, Ph.D., UI professor of speech pathology and audiology; and Christopher W. Turner, Ph.D., UI professor of speech pathology and audiology.

University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership between the UI College of Medicine and the UI Hospitals and Clinics and the patient care, medical education and research programs and services they provide. Visit UI Health Care online at www.uihealthcare.com.