Auditory & Speech Sciences Laboratory

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The ASSL receives three new federally funded grants!

Scientists at USF's Auditory & Speech Sciences Lab have received three new federally funded grants to carry out research focused on technology to improve patient care.

Look for opportunities to participate in these projects and the anticipated results in the near future!

$9M Grant: Hearing Loss!

Scientists at USF's Global Center for Hearing and Speech Research (GCHSR) and the Auditory and Speech Sciences Laboratory have received a five-year, $9 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study two unique ways to treat age-related hearing loss (ARHL). The vast majority of people over age 60 are affected by this progressive decline in auditory sensitivity and difficulty understanding speech in noise. While ARHL is one of the top three chronic medical conditions of the elderly, there currently are no approved medical treatments for preventing or reversing permanent hearing loss (ARHL or other types). Despite decades of research and discovery, overcoming the barriers of ARHL through prevention and treatment continues to represent a major scientific and clinical challenge.

The current research project focuses on changing the way the ear and the brain process sound. One arm of the study focuses on the naturally occurring hormone, aldosterone. Aldosterone regulates various functions of the body that are necessary for normal physiology, including the physiology of the auditory system. Using behavioral and neurophysiological methods, researchers at the GCHSR have been developing an animal model to determine if boosting aldosterone has a positive effect on hearing loss. They will do this by focusing on the neural mechanisms associated with hearing and how those neural codes are altered due to aging, both in mice and in humans. Parallel work in humans will include monitoring aldosterone levels in older adults over a four-year period to determine how changes in aldosterone over time and across people relates to auditory function and perception. This work will provide insights key to determining if hormone intervention could be a viable solution to ARHL.

A second arm of the study involves understanding the principles of brain plasticity and exploring the possibility that brain plasticity could be controlled in a clinical environment to overcome the key deficits associated with ARHL. ARHL is associated with changes to our perception of the loudness of sounds, and this makes it challenging for hearing aids to make soft sounds audible without making loud sounds too loud. Likewise, ARHL leads reduction in the fine timing needed to encode the details that give sounds clarity and a rich quality. This timing deficit can also make it difficult to accurately hear certain sounds and separate them from background noise. An initial step will be to determine whether the type and degree of central auditory plasticity changes with age. The next step is to alter the sound environment in an effort to induce neural plasticity in the auditory system. In this step, the focus will be to change the way the brain processes sound to try to overcome the most pronounced consequences that aging has on hearing. To do so, participants in the research will be presented with an enriched acoustic environment to induce and possibly steer neural plasticity.

The team of scientists collaborating on this grant combines expertise in perception, hearing enhancement devices, neurophysiology, molecular biology, and engineering. The research team will begin recruiting approximately 150 older individuals this year to participate in various studies. Please contact us if you are interested in participating.

Welcome Dr. Hannah Brotherton & Dr. Tera Quigley!

We are excited to welcome two new faculty members to USF and the Auditory & Speech Sciences Lab! Dr. Hannah Brotherton is a Post-Doctoral Fellow from the United Kingdom. She has Master's degrees in Research of Biomedical Science and Abnormal and Clinical Psychology, and received her Ph.D. in Audiology from the University of Manchester. Her research seeks to understand changes in neural gain in the human central auditory system following augmented auditory input. Dr. Tera Quigley is a Research Assistant Professor at the ASSL. She received her Au.D. degree from Indiana University prior to working on two clinical trials that investigated service delivery models of hearing aids and an at-home training program. Dr. Brotherton and Dr. Quigley will both assist and conduct several studies in our lab.

Welcome Karen Bell, Au.D. & Sittiprapa "Pound" Isarangura! 

We would like to welcome our two new Ph.D. students to the Auditory and Speech Sciences Lab! Dr. Bell received her Doctor of Audiology degree from The University of Southern Mississippi in 2015. Her research interests include pediatric audiology, speech perception, hearing aids, and traumatic brain injury. Pound received her Bachelor of Science in Audiology degree from Mahidol University in Bangkok, Thailand in 2012. Prior to arriving in the United States, she worked as an audiologist and assistant instructor at Ramathibodi Hospital in Bangkok. Welcome to USF!

Welcome Dr. Eric Hoover!

Join us in welcoming Dr. Eric Hoover to the Auditory & Speech Sciences Lab!  Dr. Hoover is a Post-Doctoral Fellow in CSD.  He has extensive experience in clinical and research audiology. Eric has an Ph.D. degree from Northwestern University where he completed a dissertation on the effects of traumatic brain injury on speech understanding in noise. He is currently is engaged in research in hearing aid signal processing, and relating auditory psychophysics to cortical evoked responses. His research interests include the assessment and rehabilitation of suprathreshold auditory deficits.

Welcome Dr. Mark Skowronski! 

In addition to an appointment as Associate Research Professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Dr. Skowronski is a contributing investigator on the NIH R01 grant. His research interests over the past decade have focused on signal processing techniques in various biological systems. Dr. Skowronski has researched biologically inspired noise-robust speech recognition methods for both man and machine, applied the signal processing paradigms used with speech to bioacoustic as well as electromyographic signals, and investigated models that seek to go beyond the assumptions of traditional models—linearity, normality, stationarity—such as Freeman's K-sets and Jaeger's echo state network. In addition to his academic research, Dr. Skowronski has worked within the hearing aid industry developing personalized tuning methods for hearing aids and cochlear implants. Most recently, Dr. Skowronski's work has focused on modeling the perception of dysphonic voice quality and the characterization of the effects of Parkinson's disease on speech.