Ground-breaking study to measure hearing health

Cochlear implant patients are using tablets to track their health in a study run by Nottingham BRC.

Around the world, over five per cent of the population – or 360 million people – live with a hearing loss, and approximately 11 million of these patients reside in the UK. Many benefit from an intervention such as hearing aids or cochlear implants to help them hear better.

But while these devices have helped transform their lives, it can be challenging to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of interventions to restore hearing health – including new technologies that have yet to be developed for patients. Until now.

The Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre and the University of Nottingham recently embarked on a novel 36 month research study with cochlear implant technology manufacturer Advanced Bionics, advanced biotechnology company Rinri Therapeutics, and Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hearing Implant Centre to measure and track the cochlear health of volunteers.

An early update on this ground-breaking study was presented at the latest BACO International Conference in January 2021 by Professor Douglas Hartley, Objective Measures Lead for the NIHR Nottingham BRC Hearing theme, Consultant ENT surgeon, and Chief Investigator for this research.

This year, BACO was staged in virtual format as international conference on translational hearing research. It was aimed at ENT surgeons, audiologists, speech and language therapists and other hearing health professionals.

Patients who have had a cochlear implant manufactured by Advanced Bionics implanted within the last year – or within recent years – are taking daily measurements of their own key hearing health data during the initial phase of this study.

This group of volunteers was recruited from the Nottingham BRC database, and further groups of participants may include patients who will record their “objective measures” on timescales ranging from as soon as their cochlear implants have been installed by ENT surgeons, to months or years after implantation.

In this novel research, the volunteers use a cochlear implant processor linking the implant within their ear and a custom-build computer known as the AIM tablet, developed by Advanced Bionics.

This technology is being used to take objective measures of hearing health twice a day over a 12 week study period. The £154,186 project has been funded by Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency, and should pave the way for researchers to provide more in-depth measurements of future innovations in hearing health.

Professor Hartley said: “Rather than using cochlear implants in the conventional way to stimulate hearing, we are using them as a recording device in this trial.”

“We will be using the implants to measure inflammatory responses, along with the health of hair and nerve cells, within the inner ear. This opens new doors for novel curative therapies for hearing loss, either adjunct to cochlear implantation or as stand-alone interventions.”

Professor Hartley added: “Ultimately, we are aiming to achieve the best quality of hearing for patients. Although cochlear implants are amazing devices for partial restoration of patients’ hearing, they fall short of our goal of restoring normal levels of hearing for all.”

BRC Research Fellow Dr Faizah Mushtaq has been seconded from Nottingham BRC to work with Rinri therapeutics along with Advanced Bionics on the study. Her secondment has been funded by the Innovate UK grant.

She said: “The key limitation has always been in gaining access to the cochlea, or inner ear, a structure buried deep inside a patient’s head, and usually very inaccessible.”

“Using the electrode array that is inserted into the cochlea of cochlear implant recipients means we have a novel way to measure what is happening inside the participant’s inner ear.”

She added: “I am proud to be working on this exciting project at an early stage in my career, having only been awarded my PhD within the last year. The opportunity to work in collaboration with academic, clinical and industry partners on something so ground-breaking is rare, particularly in the field of hearing loss.”

Paddy Boyle, Senior Director for External Co-operations at Advanced Bionics, said:

“Advanced Bionics is delighted to be involved in this forward-looking study. It is particularly satisfying to see our objective measurement capability being put to such innovative use, as well as cochlear implant recipients being empowered to monitor their own hearing health.”

Dr Simon Chandler, CEO of Rinri Therapeutics, said:

“We are delighted to welcome Faizah into the Rinri team to form a bridge between industry and clinical practice and help all parties understand how to develop advanced therapies more effectively in order to accelerate the journey to patients, where we hope that we bring truly transformational changes to the live of patients.”

As well the participants recruited via the NIHR Nottingham BRC database, other volunteers will be joining the study from the Nottingham Auditory Implant Programme and St Thomas’ Hearing Implant Centre.

Cochlear implant patients are using tablets to track their health in a study run by Nottingham BRC.

Around the world, over five per cent of the population – or 360 million people – live with a hearing loss, and approximately 11 million of these patients reside in the UK. Many benefit from an intervention such as hearing aids or cochlear implants to help them hear better.

But while these devices have helped transform their lives, it can be challenging to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of interventions to restore hearing health – including new technologies that have yet to be developed for patients. Until now.

The Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre and the University of Nottingham recently embarked on a novel 36 month research study with cochlear implant technology manufacturer Advanced Bionics, advanced biotechnology company Rinri Therapeutics, and Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hearing Implant Centre to measure and track the cochlear health of volunteers.

An early update on this ground-breaking study was presented at the latest BACO International Conference in January 2021 by Professor Douglas Hartley, Objective Measures Lead for the NIHR Nottingham BRC Hearing theme, Consultant ENT surgeon, and Chief Investigator for this research.

This year, BACO was staged in virtual format as international conference on translational hearing research. It was aimed at ENT surgeons, audiologists, speech and language therapists and other hearing health professionals.

Patients who have had a cochlear implant manufactured by Advanced Bionics implanted within the last year – or within recent years – are taking daily measurements of their own key hearing health data during the initial phase of this study.

This group of volunteers was recruited from the Nottingham BRC database, and further groups of participants may include patients who will record their “objective measures” on timescales ranging from as soon as their cochlear implants have been installed by ENT surgeons, to months or years after implantation.

In this novel research, the volunteers use a cochlear implant processor linking the implant within their ear and a custom-build computer known as the AIM tablet, developed by Advanced Bionics.

This technology is being used to take objective measures of hearing health twice a day over a 12 week study period. The £154,186 project has been funded by Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency, and should pave the way for researchers to provide more in-depth measurements of future innovations in hearing health.

Professor Hartley said: “Rather than using cochlear implants in the conventional way to stimulate hearing, we are using them as a recording device in this trial.

“We will be using the implants to measure inflammatory responses, along with the health of hair and nerve cells, within the inner ear. This opens new doors for novel curative therapies for hearing loss, either adjunct to cochlear implantation or as stand-alone interventions.”

Professor Hartley added: “Ultimately, we are aiming to achieve the best quality of hearing for patients. Although cochlear implants are amazing devices for partial restoration of patients’ hearing, they fall short of our goal of restoring normal levels of hearing for all.”

BRC Research Fellow Dr Faizah Mushtaq has been seconded from Nottingham BRC to work with Rinri therapeutics along with Advanced Bionics on the study. Her secondment has been funded by the Innovate UK grant.

She said: “The key limitation has always been in gaining access to the cochlea, or inner ear, a structure buried deep inside a patient’s head, and usually very inaccessible.

“Using the electrode array that is inserted into the cochlea of cochlear implant recipients means we have a novel way to measure what is happening inside the participant’s inner ear.”

She added: “I am proud to be working on this exciting project at an early stage in my career, having only been awarded my PhD within the last year. The opportunity to work in collaboration with academic, clinical and industry partners on something so ground-breaking is rare, particularly in the field of hearing loss.”

Paddy Boyle, Senior Director for External Co-operations at Advanced Bionics, said:

“Advanced Bionics is delighted to be involved in this forward-looking study. It is particularly satisfying to see our objective measurement capability being put to such innovative use, as well as cochlear implant recipients being empowered to monitor their own hearing health.”

Dr Simon Chandler, CEO of Rinri Therapeutics, said:

“We are delighted to welcome Faizah into the Rinri team to form a bridge between industry and clinical practice and help all parties understand how to develop advanced therapies more effectively in order to accelerate the journey to patients, where we hope that we bring truly transformational changes to the live of patients.”

As well the participants recruited via the NIHR Nottingham BRC database, other volunteers will be joining the study from the Nottingham Auditory Implant Programme and St Thomas’ Hearing Implant Centre.