AHRF Grant Recipient Focuses on Making Connections in the Inner Ear

Joseph Clarke, MD, of the University of Iowa is the 2010 CORE grant recipient for the American Hearing Research Foundation. Dr. Clarke is interested in using polymer (plastic) forms to help guide spiral ganglion neurons in the inner ear to make contact with the stimulating electrodes of cochlear implants.
In patients who are candidates for cochlear implants, the spiral ganglion neurons- the specific nerve fibers that innervate the cochlea and allow sound information to be transferred to the auditory nerve and the brain- are often damaged or no longer make contact with the hair cells of the cochlea. Of the 12-20 channels, or potential contact points, of a cochlear implant, perhaps only a handful will make contact with a spiral gangiolon neuron. This leaves many cochlear implant patients with relatively limited hearing.

Dr. Clarke hopes that by guiding remaining spiral ganglion neurons to grow and make contact with cochlear implant electrodes, cochlear implant patients will have better hearing with implants.

“By building a polymer structure that can guide the neurons towards the cochlear implant electrodes, we can improve the performance of existing cochlear implants,” Dr. Clarke says.

His CORE grant research will focus on investigating specific polymer patterns that promote and direct growth of spiral ganglion neurons.