Deafness Research UK announces Pauline Ashley prize winner

Published: Fri Sep 26 2008

The prize was established in memory of the charity’s founder, Lady Pauline Ashley, and aims to encourage the most promising young scientists to start or continue research into hearing and deafness. Awarded annually to an exceptional young scientist near the beginning of their career in hearing research, the prize enables them to gain valuable research experience in a leading research centre overseas, so that knowledge gained will be brought back to the UK to the benefit of the British deafness research community.

Rosemary will travel to the Virginia Merrill Bloedel Hearing Research Center at the University of Washington, Seattle, to collaborate with Professor Jay Rubinstein on a project aiming to predict the ability of infants and toddlers with cochlear implants to understand speech. If successful, the technique could provide feedback to clinicians who tune implants, enabling children to get the best out of them. Such measures could also provide information to teachers and therapists about children’s potential in speech perception.

Rosemary said: "I am extremely grateful to Deafness Research UK for giving me the opportunity to visit one of the foremost hearing research centres in the world. I will learn techniques for measuring the hearing of profoundly deaf babies and toddlers who use cochlear implants. I plan to use the techniques in future research in the UK."

A member of the judging panel, commenting on Rosemary’s entry, said: "This candidate is outstanding with an excellent academic track record. The project is clearly described and covers the very important area of evaluating the performance of bilateral cochlear implants. The host laboratory is excellent and the collaboration should propagate long-lasting links in an area that should be supported within the UK. The personal strengths of the applicant and the quality of the host laboratories make this application a winner."

Ade Deane-Pratt, Research Communications Manager for Deafness Research UK, said: "Rosemary has proven her abilities as a researcher. We are absolutely delighted that she has chosen to pursue what is such an important area of deafness research, which will ultimately help the treatment of deaf children and babies in the UK. Rosemary’s work is thoroughly deserving of the Pauline Ashley Prize and we wish her every success with this and future research projects."

Together with Professor Lynne Werner, Professor Rubenstein has developed a specialised version of a test, known as "spectral-ripple" discrimination, which measures the ability to detect the kind of changes across sound frequency that occur in speech. The test is to be used with a technique known as the observer-based psychoacoustic procedure which is a rigorous means of measuring detection and discrimination in pre-lingual children as young as two weeks old.

Rosemary’s PhD is funded by Deafness Research UK and she has been supervised by Professor Quentin Summerfield (Deafness Research UK’s Chief Research Advisor). Rosemary’s research project has focused on comparing the spatial listening skills of children with normal hearing, and children with unilateral or bilateral cochlear implants. Findings show that having two implants allows children to work out where sounds are coming from and to understand speech in a range of noisy situations. These advantages may help children to avoid hazards outdoors and to understand what is being said in noisy environments at home and school.

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Ref: DRUK0094 – Pauline Ashley Prize 2009
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