Researchers at Western’s National Centre for Audiology (NCA) are testing how well light pulses transmit sound as they test a device that could break new ground in hearing-aid technology.
Western is the first Canadian site to work with the Earlens hearing aid, introduced into the American market in 2015 and more recently approved by Health Canada for domestic use.
“It’s the first trial of its kind in Canada and the only independent study the company has contracted,” said researcher Susan Scollie, associate professor in the School of Communications Sciences and with the National Centre for Audiology (NCA) at Western.
Manufacturers of the Earlens said the new technology delivers a broader bandwidth of audio – better amplifying lower and higher pitches and offering richer, more true-to-life sound than conventional hearing aids.
“They’re going to a bandwidth that hearing aids haven’t historically been able to provide,” Scollie said. “But we don’t yet know if this will help the user. Our project will measure outcomes to see if there are real benefits available.”
The NCA’s research contract with Earlens is to test rigorously whether the expanded bandwidth improves sound quality for the wearer. The research will take place using an accepted scientific method, with a double-blind study.
“It’s evidence-based product evaluation, which is what we do,” Scollie said. “As arm’s-length researchers, we test the company’s claim to improved sound quality. We don’t beat the drum for any specific company or technology and that’s why companies come to us for trusted third-party evaluations. ”
Conventional hearing aids use a microphone that picks up sound, sends it to a tiny speaker and plays it back in the ear canal. The processor in the Earlens communicates with a light tip, which converts sound to invisible light pulses. Those pulses project onto a lens that rests on the eardrum to stimulate the wearer’s natural hearing system.
Suzanne Levy, director of clinical research at Earlens, said, “This is a landmark study for our company, as we are confident in what our technology delivers and are excited to have it tested at a respected and independent research facility, that happens to be Canadian.”
The NCA is a state-of-the-art audiology research centre. It has developed national protocols for pediatric heating assessments, developed methods for hearing aid fitting and has tested numberous new devices for more than a dozen companies from countries all around the world.