Do You Hear What I Hear?

Sight + Sound, Fall 2020

by Heather Chronis Danek

In today’s university environment, a research collaboration between departments often results in not only more creative solutions but also quicker results by bringing together teams that have extraordinary skills in solving multiple issues within a puzzle. A current example of this type of collaboration is the research that Carl Snyderman, MD, MBA, Department of Otolaryngology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and Bharath Chandrasekaran, PhD, Department of Communication Science and Disorders, School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, University of Pittsburgh, are conducting to understand the role of the brain in hearing and understanding. “Real innovation occurs in uncharted territory at the juncture of different disciplines. The University of Pittsburgh and UPMC provide the ideal environment for such collaboration. We rely on our senses to make sense of the world around us. The research that we are doing could have profound implications for improving the quality of life for patients with impaired senses,” explains Dr. Snyderman.

Not all hearing problems can be solved with a hearing aid. Funded by generous support from the Edith Trees Foundation through PNC Charitable Trust, the main question to be answered by the research is why people hear what they hear, and why are some patients unable to hear the same things as the rest of the population. The brain holds so many mysteries, including the processing of sound stimuli through neural pathways.  Do patients with neurological disorders hear “differently?” How does the brain work to process sound in a healthy individual, and can the brain be adapted through surgery and/or rehabilitation in those that have neurological damage to hear as a healthy patient would? To understand these issues, Drs. Snyderman and Chandrasekaran are utilizing novel neuroimaging methods to determine patterns among patient groups. From there, new treatment strategies to improve sound recognition will be explored with patients, with the potential to benefit children with congenital hearing loss to adults suffering from brain trauma or stroke. States Dr. Chandrasekaran, “this is an exciting opportunity for us to break the silos between basic science and translational application and take neuroimaging technology that exists only in the lab, to the real-world. We each sense our auditory world in our own unique way and our collaboration will pave the way in developing personalized auditory rehabilitation, moving away from one-size-fits-all solutions.”

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