The biggest conference on auditory implants has a long tradition – the meeting of specialists in this discipline takes place every two years since 1987. The principal organizer of the 13th conference was Prof. Joachim Müller, the head of the implant program at the University of Wurzburg, and then at the University of Munich.
Among prominent guests of this year’s meeting there were four pioneers in the implant science: Prof. Claude-Henri Chouard from Paris, Prof. Graeme Clark from Melbourne, Ingeborg Hochmair, D.Sc., from Innsbruck and Prof. Blake Wilson from North Carolina (USA). At the end of 2013 the last free scientists received Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award, the most prestigious American science award. During the opening session they talked about the fascinating history of how implants have been used in the treatment of hearing loss. The Institute of Physiology and Pathology of Hearing was represented by Prof. Henryk Skarżyński together with the team of 39 specialists and associates of the World Hearing Center and associates. It was the most numerous group of scientists representing one unit. The range of substantial contribution of the team to the Conference surprised even the organizers. The program contained 71 works of our specialists! We were the only team from Poland that participated in discussion panels. Prof. Henryk Skarżyński, M.D., Ph.D., Ass. Prof. Artur Lorens, Ph.D., Maciej Mrówka M.D., Ph.D., Piotr Skarżyński, M.D., Ph.D., and Łukasz Olszewski, M.A. contributed to 8 panels.
Below we publish an interview with Prof. Artur Lorens, the head of the Implants and Auditory Perception Department, about the most important events of the conference and the activities of specialists from the Institute.
Słyszę (the magazine for people with hearing and speech disorders): How big is the knowledge about hearing implantation?
Prof. Artur Lorens: Without doubts, the progress of the last 25 years surpassed the expectations of pioneers. In the 80s it was believed that electric hearing stimulation is not possible, and that an implant is a device used only in totally deaf adults and only to help them in lipreading. Now, we have the whole range of new implants – not only cochlear implants, but also middle ear implants, bone conduction implants, brainstem implants, middle brain implants and the newest vestibular implants. Two thousands researchers and physicians met to talk about the best possibl ways of using those technological achievements in practice. The possibilities in hearing implantation have widened significantly thanks to the progress in the implant technology and broadening our knowledge in hearing mechanisms. Nowadays, we don’t have to specify one target group of hearing impaired patients who can benefit from implantation, because the group extends all the time. It can contain more and more people who are not totally deaf. They may suffer from only partial hearing loss, unilateral hearing loss or other hearing disorder. We are in a position that forces us to develop a system that allows assessing the effects of solutions used in patients with different hearing problems. Currently, we are researching measuring instruments. It is known that audiological measures and the speech recognition assessment are not sufficient in assessing benefits for patients. Such assessments should generate many other elements, e.g. stereophonic hearing, improvement of the quality of life.
Słyszę: What kinds of hearing problems were most widely discussed?
Prof. Artur Lorens: One of the leading subjects concerns so-called the new target group. It includes patients with partial deafness (PDT), although the first implantation in such patient took place 12 years ago and was performed by Professor Henryk Skarżyński. Therefore, he was asked to give one of the leading lectures. His speech was on the therapy in children with partial deafness. Moreover, Professor Henryk Skarżyński was invited to chair a discussion panel with the participation of also other prominent specialists. The panel covered new indications and possibilities in PDT. Professor Henryk Skarżyński took also part in other panels: on the preservation of hearing and inner ear structures, on the assessment standards for the results of partial deafness treatment. The subject of my lecture was hearing preservation in partial deafness. During the conference, the specialists from the Institute presented over a dozen presentations on partial deafness in total. Scientists collaborating with many international centers start to research also the subject of unilateral deafness. There are three times more births of babies with unilateral deafness than total deafness. Statistically, it gives about 0,05% of neonates. However, the percentage of children in schoolage who have the same problem is 5%! It is a handredfold increase. This means that there is a must to perform screening tests for hearing problems. Anna Piotrowska, M.D., Ph.D. and Piotr Skarżyński, M.D., Ph.D. took up the subject of screening tests in their presentations. The studies conducted by the Institute in this domain perfectly fit global trends.
Słyszę: The Institute is known not only as a leading research unit, but also as an educational center…
Prof. Artur Lorens: Our specialists participated in tutorials for young scholars. Professor Henryk Skarżyński conducted scientific sessions among others on indications important to choose the right method of implantation. I, together with Prof. Andreas Büchner from Hanover, chaired workshops during which we discussed cases when it is especially difficult to choose the best possible therapy.
Słyszę: What conclusions can be drawn from the conference?
Prof. Artur Lorens: The impressive number of works presented in this conference proves that within 25 years the knowledge on hearing implants has improved significantly. Now, this filed refers to a group of other scientific disciplines. Our team presented works covering many different spheres, including not only otolaryngology but also rehabilitation, clinical engineering, experimental audiophonologie, genetics and neurophysiology. Again this proves that the Institute of Physiology and Pathology of Hearing belongs to the small lead of world research and clinical centers working in the field of hearing therapies.