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Finding causes and cures for neurological disorders of the ear

The neuro-otology group at Brain and Mind Centre is dedicated to better understanding conditions that affect people’s hearing and balance. We work to develop new diagnostic tools and treatments.

What we do

Neuro-otology is the study of neurological disorders of the ear that result in hearing loss and dizziness. Many people suddenly develop some form of hearing loss or vertigo in their lifetime, which can be severely disabling and stressful. Unfortunately, the root cause of these conditions is largely unknown which limits the availability of effective treatments.

Our approach

Our translational research program focuses on fundamentally understanding the physiology of ear disorders through to developing and testing new treatments for patients in the clinic. We are one of the only research laboratories in the world that take a systemic view of hearing loss and vertigo. Rather than focus on the cochlea or vestibular system, we look at the inner ear as a whole. To this end, we have developed objective tests to diagnose specific illnesses associated with the ear. This in turn means patients can receive the most appropriate therapeutic interventions. By increasing our understanding of the causes of these diseases, our team can focus on developing new and more effective treatment approaches.

Our main research area is on the study of Ménière’s disease. This is a condition of the inner ear characterised by episodes of vertigo, tinnitus, hearing loss and nausea. It is estimated that more than 50,000 people in Australia are affected. While the condition isn’t life threatening, the symptoms can severely impact a person’s quality of life. The root cause of the condition is largely unknown so, to a large extent, effective treatments are still not available. The neuro-otology group at the Brain and Mind Centre is dedicated to better understanding Ménière’s disease and to developing new diagnostic tools and treatments.

Chronic dizziness breakthrough

Surgical destruction of the vestibular system is a common procedure for desperate vertigo sufferers. However this surgery leaves them deaf in the affected ear. Until now, it was thought that a cochlear implant couldn’t work in patients who had undergone this surgery because their cochlear nerve would have degenerated. In 2015, a study by our team found that cochlear implants could still benefit people who had surgically destroyed vestibular systems.

Our lab research in this area led to successful clinical trials thanks to fruitful collaborations with ear, nose and throat specialists. Now, people who have undergone vestibular system surgery have the chance to hear again.

Our collaborators

Our translational approach is facilitated through our close links with healthcare providers at ENT Care Sydney, the Institute of Academic Surgery at Royal Prince Alfred hospital as well as the Ménière’s Research Fund.