Report by: Melanie Lough (Research Audiologist, University of Manchester)
The Manchester Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) Hearing Health Showcase was somewhat of a joint celebration, with 2019 marking the 100-year anniversary of audiology and deaf education. The day began with introductions from Professor Kay Marshall, Head of the School of Health Sciences, and Professor Kevin Munro, BRC Hearing Health Theme Lead, from the University of Manchester, who highlighted the historical importance of the city in the fields of audiology and deaf education. Prof Kevin Munro also drew the delegates attention to the forthcoming special edition of Trends in Hearing; in commemoration of the centenary, all of the included articles will be freely available online.
The morning programme comprised a number of short presentations, reflecting the breadth of topics being explored by the BRC. One of the most notable of these was, ‘Genomic solutions: Point of care genetic testing to prevent antibiotic induced hearing loss in neonates.’ Professor Bill Newman, Professor of Translational Genomic Medicine, explained that the pharmacogenetics to avoid loss of hearing (PALOH) study team have already been able to reduce the time taken to determine if a baby is at risk of Gentamicin-induced deafness from three to five days to just 25 minutes in a proof of concept study. This has been achieved by improving the ‘Genedrive’ (a portable piece of gene testing equipment). The next phase of the study began 1 November 2019, where the technology will be trialled on neonatal units at Liverpool Women’s Hospital and Manchester Royal Infirmary. Nationally, this has the potential for preserving the hearing of 180 babies per year.
Professors past and present: Prof Kevin Munro, and Prof John Bamford.
A common thread running through much of the showcase programme was collaboration. There were presentations from the other two Hearing Health BRCs, Nottingham and UCL, as well as charities, industry and the public programmes team. A particularly inspirational talk was given by Rachel Corry, whose positive experience of her pre-term baby being involved in research, has led her to campaign more proactively to get more parents/children to participate in research. This was certainly a stark reminder to those of us in hearing research, of why we do what we do.
The endnote speaker was Dr Brent Edwards, Director of the National Acoustic Laboratories (NAL) in Australia. His presentation, ‘Trends shaping the future of hearing services’ clarified NAL’s pragmatic approach of focussing research on the unmet needs of people with auditory dysfunction. In particular, those patients whose hearing thresholds are better than 25 dB HL but who have self-perceived hearing difficulties, and those with hearing thresholds greater than 25 dB HL, with self-perceived hearing difficulties but who reject hearing aid provision. Hearables for the former, and over-the-counter hearing devices for the latter, are two areas highlighted as requiring further enquiry. Dr Edwards also pointed to connected health (e-health), machine-learning and artificial intelligence as key developments that are already transforming the landscape of audiology. He encouraged delegates to embrace such developments, but also, reassuringly, explained that recent investigation has shown a correlation between better perceived care from an audiologist and better hearing aid outcomes.
As with any good birthday party, it ended with a glass of bubbly and a slice of ‘100 Years’ birthday cake. The day was certainly a fitting tribute to the legacy of the forerunners of deaf education and audiology, the Ewings, T S Littler and E L Jones.