World’s first CI MEG brain scanner switches on for first study

For the first time, in a joint project between the ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders (CCD) and Hear and Say Queensland, scientists will use a brain imaging technique called MEG, or magnetoencephalography, to measure brain function in recipients of cochlear implants, including young adults like Jamie-Lee.

The new device is able to produce images of brain activity without distortion by the cochlear implant device, enabling researchers to gain valuable insight into this established and effective solution for people with hearing loss.

“This is the first study of its kind,” says lead researcher Associate Professor Blake Johnson, “and will form the proof of concept for a larger scale studies investigating brain changes following cochlear implantation in preschool children, and the impact of an enriched auditory environment.”

24-year-old Jamie-Lee was diagnosed as profoundly deaf at one year of age. She received her first cochlear implant at four years and seven months old, and in July 2014, will receive another one for her other ear.

As the CI MEG is currently equipped only for people with a single cochlear implant, Jamie-Lee is squeezing time in her busy schedule to come down from Brisbane and contribute the first set of data before her second surgery. She has commented that she has often been the “first” at things like this, and is keen to contribute to cutting edge research.

Johnson is curious to see what Jamie-Lee’s brain scans reveal. “We will be looking at how Jamie-Lee’s brain responds to speech and other sounds compared to that of a person with normal hearing,” he says. “Jamie-Lee is particularly interesting as a subject because she was deaf before she acquired language.  It will also be interesting to compare her brain’s response with those of children who received implants at earlier ages.”

According to Distinguished Professor Stephen Crain, Director of the CCD, “We know that early intervention yields the best cognitive outcomes for children, but the human brain has amazing adaptive abilities at all ages.  Using the new MEG system, we are investigating how the brain is able to achieve so much using the information provided by a cochlear implant.”

Dimity Dornan AO, Founder and current Executive Director of Hear and Say, will be accompanying Jamie-Lee, her mum Jackie and audiologist Beth Atkinson on their visit to the MEG laboratory. She is excited to see Jamie-Lee’s efforts launch this important research project. “I had the pleasure of educating both Jamie-Lee and her parents from the time she was 13 months of age to 6 years of age. Imagine my excitement to see Jamie-Lee contributing as the first participant in this important study. The CI MEG offers a new window into auditory brain function in cochlear implant recipients and gives us an amazing opportunity to measure the neurophysiological effects of the therapeutic interventions we work with in our early intervention programs.”

Significantly, the installation of the CI MEG device is also one of the first major outcomes of the Australian Hearing Hub, an initiative of Macquarie University that brings the country’s best hearing technology and research providers together with allied health organisations. The CI MEG itself is the result of collaboration between the CCD, Cochlear Limited, the Hearing CRC, CSIRO and Kanazawa Institute of Technology. According to Associate Professor Jim Patrick, Chief Scientist at Cochlear, “It is a great example of what can be achieved by partners in the Australian Hearing Hub.”

The facilities in the CCD’s KIT-Macquarie Brain Research Laboratory make it one of the world’s most advanced laboratories for brain research, with a suite of three MEG brain imaging systems – including two world-first devices. The laboratory, based at the Macquarie University node of the CCD, also features a CSIRO-designed helium recovery system to support the MEG systems.

To meet the costly liquid helium demands of the laboratory’s growing work, additional funding is needed. Companies or individuals can support the continuation of this work with potential to affect the lives of thousands of Australian families. Lead researcher Blake Johnson ([email protected]; (02) 9850 6879) is happy to advise on current needs.

About Hear and Say

Hear and Say is a world leading organisation which supports young children with hearing loss and their families. 

Based in Queensland, children at Hear and Say learn to hear, listen and speak using a combination of modern hearing technology and Auditory-Verbal Therapy by building auditory brain pathways to facilitate their child’s listening and spoken language. The program at Hear and Say allows children who are deaf the opportunity to realise their full potential in life.

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