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Clearer Views for Better Hearing

Published Date:

DoD Grant Funds New Microscope to Aid Hearing Research

Auditory researchers at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine have acquired a new microscope to enhance work in laboratories studying tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and hearing loss caused by toxins, noise exposure or aging. A $270,000 grant from the Office of Naval Research in the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) funded the device.

“Our research labs are making great progress on understanding and reversing hearing loss, and this new investigative tool will help us advance the work,” said Brandon Cox, PhD, assistant professor in pharmacology. “We also will use it for Clearer Views for Better Hearingeducational purposes, to train the PhD and postdoctoral fellows who are studying auditory pathways with us.”

The Zeiss Laser Scanning Microscope (LSM) 800 with Airyscan uses light emitting diodes (LEDs) which are more powerful and stable than gas lasers. The Airyscan technology produces a higher resolution called Super Resolution Microscopy. In 2014 the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to the three developers of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy. The Super Resolution optic process increases clarity of smaller structures and helps users see separation between two objects that are close together. The Zeiss LSM 800 with Airyscan nearly doubles the field of resolution from the School’s previous confocal microscope, making very small cellular details within the inner ear easier to view.

SIU School of Medicine is internationally recognized for its hearing research and is one of the few state institutions to use this type of super resolution imaging equipment. The microscope was obtained through a grant proposal written by Cox and co-investigators Donald Caspary, PhD, Distinguished Scholar and professor of pharmacology; Kathleen Campbell, PhD, Distinguished Scholar and professor of medical microbiology, immunology and cell biology; Leonard Rybak, MD, PhD, Distinguished Scholar and professor emeritus of surgery, Division of Otolaryngology; Debashree Mukherjea, PhD, research assistant professor of surgery, Division of Otolaryngology; and Vickram Ramkumar, PhD, professor of pharmacology. The scientists work both separately and in collaboration to study the mechanisms of hearing.

SIU scientists have research investigations underway on

• tinnitus

• noise induced hearing loss (NIHL)

• hearing loss caused by age

• hearing loss caused by pharmaceutical agents

The U.S. military receives more than 22,000 new claims per year for NIHL, which is the most common reason that U.S. troops cannot be redeployed. NIHL and tinnitus comprise the top two injuries in terms of incidence and compensation according to the DoD. Combined, they are estimated to cost the Veterans Administration more than $2 billion annually, depending on which costs are included.

Hearing disability increases the risk of death not only for the soldiers with hearing loss, but also for fellow troops because of impaired ability to communicate quickly, detect hazards or locate the enemy.

Permanent NIHL affects more than 10 million Americans, and work-related noise exposure affects close to 30 million.

Established in 1970, the mission of SIU School of Medicine is to assist the people of central and southern Illinois in meeting their health care needs through education, patient care, research and service to the community. An international leader in medical education, the school is based in Carbondale and Springfield and is specifically oriented to educating new physicians prepared to practice in Illinois. Since opening, 2,753 physicians have graduated from its program. For information, call SIU’s main number, 217-545-8000, or visit


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