Hearing engineer


by Juliet Waters

The impact on the congenital deaf who don’t receive a diagnosis until early childhood is serious. They lose out on years of therapy. The movement towards universal infant screening is well established and gaining in strength each year, says Robert Funnell, BEng, MEng, PhD, Associate Professor, Biomedical Engineering and Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery; Associate Member, Obstetrics & Gynecology and Electrical Engineering; and, Director, Audilab an auditory mechanics laboratory. This progress is something to celebrate, but there are still important stumbling blocks. Current screening methods are not as accurate as they could be. There are “enormous numbers of false positives,” with only one in four children who test positive having a real problem. Follow-up is costly to the medical system “and very stressful to new parents,” says Funnell. Many of the false positives are caused by what is essentially “junk,” accumulated from fetal fluid, which has settled into the middle ear. Funnell’s lab is working on a tympanometry test that could assess the presence of blockage. It would add mere seconds to the standard test, or might even be done concurrently with one diagnostic device. Tympanometry tests on infants are still “difficult experiments,” but the reward, making early diagnosis far more accurate, would certainly be reason to rejoice.

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