Episode 7 Continuing the Conversation with Dr. YingYing Wang

The Transcript

Dale Johnson: Your hearing is important to us. It’s important to me because I’m in radio obviously, but it’s important to you on a daily basis. So we talk about it with Dr. Sandra Miller from Complete Hearing. It is The Conversation Starts Here on KFOR FM 103.3 1240 AM. Dr. Miller, welcome back in.

Dr. Miller: Great to be back always.

Dale Johnson: We are very privileged to have continuation of a conversation that we started last week, and if you missed it you have another opportunity. complete-hearing.com is the place to go. Podcast link on your website.

Dr. Miller: There is.

Dale Johnson: And you can listen to the conversation, last week’s extremely interesting conversation. One that we really just started for about 12 and a half minutes, and we’re going to continue it today with Dr. Wang. She is from the University of Nebraska through an extensive resume prior to coming to the university, but started the Neuroimaging for Language, Literacy and Learning Lab. We’ll call it the NL3. Would that be appropriate, Dr. Wang?

Dr. Wang: Yes. Sure.

Dale Johnson: And we resume the conversation on hearing. And before the show even started, we had so many questions.

Dr. Miller: I think we talked for 30 minutes before the show even started.

Dale Johnson: Before we really get into it.

Dr. Miller: And we were just listening with bated breath with what she was going to say next. So I just love that.

Dale Johnson: So where should we pick it up? Again, we refer you to the podcast, complete-hearing.com, to set up where we go today.

Dr. Miller: I think we might go back to just, I think one of your questions, Dale, was if somebody’s deaf, does a cochlear implant help them?

Dale Johnson: I wondered about that. We could treat this two ways. If someone is born deaf and never has had hearing, and someone who has and then loses it, is a cochlear implant appropriate for both? Neither? How is that handled, Dr. Wang?

Dr. Wang: From a brain stem point of view, so as long as the candidates have a intact auditory nerve, they should benefit from cochlear implant. And then if someone born deaf, they actually never had auditory input, they might actually adapt the device faster because they haven’t even had actually hearing experience. So what they hear from the device is not something new. It’s just what they hear. So then they can definitely adapt faster.

Dr. Wang: And then for those actually they’ve been deaf maybe for over a long period of time, 10 years, 25 years, there’s a lot of things happening in the brain at that point. So there’s one thing could happen is the areas should be in charge of the auditory function, got invade by other sensory modal or visual or could it be language functions. So that time could affect the way they adapt to the new device, because the area in the brain got occupied. That’s the one actually research hypothesis we have.

Dr. Miller: I love what you said earlier about how will we talk about people who don’t see. And so kind of talk about that, because I really took away from people who don’t see, what happens to the cortex that’s responsible for that?

Dr. Wang: See sometime you will hear, oh people who actually can see, they hear better. They have better hearing. Why? Well, because is the cortex, which we call occipital cortex, which is in the back of the head, is in charge of the visual function. Because without the visual stimulation, they’re not used, and then the brain is highly plasticity thinks they are not used, the brain say, “Well, okay then I can use that one for other functions.” So from some previous research, they showing people actually who can now see, they’re actually, when they hearing stuff, hearing like a hearing stimulant, they have hearing stimulation, their auditory cortex is actually light up. It’s actually the brain using the auditory, using the occipital cortex to do the auditory processing. That’s why they’re using much bigger cortex area to do the same function. They can hear better. So that something can be transferred to actually people who are deaf as well.

Dale Johnson: So the brain is not losing functionality because of either blindness or deafness. It’s actually getting smarter.

Dr. Miller: Or it’s resourcing in a different way, right?

Dr. Wang: Yes.

Dale Johnson: That’s, put it better.

Dr. Miller: So the plasticity of the brain is so fascinating to me too, but I think about where if there’s something else where that’s not being used, well, I’m going to use it over here in a different way. Like the reorganization of the brain. And we talk to our patients a lot about when there is hearing loss that there’s this big cognitive load that gets put on the brain, because if you’re not hearing, your brain has to figure out how am I going to make this work.

Dr. Miller: And so I sometimes use it very rudimentary and say, well, now the thinking part of your brain has to take over for the hearing part of your brain. And so what happens is then there’s this processing that takes place where now it’s not as easy to remember anymore, or it’s not as easy to even process information as easily, because you don’t hear.

Dr. Wang: There’s a new research actually coming from neuroscience even indicating. They did a study, is actually they study the patients who has Alzheimer, and then looking back to their history of hearing loss, and also the history of how often they’re wearing their hearing aids. They even published, I think recently, indicating if you left your hearing problem alone, just don’t treat it, and then you have a higher chance, although it’s just a research at this point, is higher chance and then high possibility to develop into dementia or Alzheimer.

Dr. Miller: So a lot of times we’re seeing a lot of advertisements, and I’m going to caution you out there that some people will be advertising hearing loss causes dementia. There is not a cause effect.

Dr. Wang: Yes.

Dr. Miller: We always say they’re correlated. And so as the research is coming out we’re finding that when people have hearing loss, that there is a correlation to having more difficulty with cognitive decline, is what we find for sure.

Dr. Wang: Because a lot of time people just don’t want to wear hearing aids. I think what the study really did is they actually just studied the duration of the hearing aids and how early they started wearing hearing aids, correlates as you say, correlates the ways the onset of Alzheimer and then dementia.

Dr. Miller: Yeah, absolutely. I’m going to go and go back to something we were talking about off air, and I think that Dale had a really good point. We think we hear with our ears, and we don’t hear with our ears. We said this is just the delivery system to get it to your brain. And then Dale said, well, yeah it’s kind of like when you touch with your finger, the sensitivity, that perception is actually coming from your brain. So to remind your listeners that definitely this, we hear with our brain ultimately, and so this kind of goes transitioning back into your lab, Dr. Wang, on what’s happening in terms of what you’re researching, what’s happening. Because I think it’s fascinating when we think about, we want to make it so simplified and it’s so complex.

Dr. Miller: But it’s complex in a great way because when we do research to the brain and try to figure out truly what’s happening, especially in your case where you’re studying like what is the impact of somebody who’s going to get a cochlear implant. Are they a good candidate? Or you have other research going on that talks about children who are deaf and the ability for them to read. I think it’s just fascinating to try to figure out like, okay, this can be a huge indicator of success. And so I know we’re in the early stages of getting this going, but tell us a little bit about what… I know as a researcher and a neuroscientist, you need subjects. I need people to come in so we can get this data collected, so we can figure out and give good information out to the public, to say this is really what we’re finding in our research. So tell us maybe a little bit about what you’re doing in your lab and what you’re looking for.

Dr. Wang: So our lab are currently looking for individuals who thinking about to get cochlear implant. So we want actually get them in before the surgery, scan their brain and do behavioral testing as well. Then we follow them longitudinally after surgical procedure to see how their brain responds.

Dr. Miller: How long is the time commitment for that? Do you have them come back? How often?

Dr. Wang: We actually right now for three times. So first before surgery and the other three is after surgery. Three months, follow up, and six months follow up at this point. And then I have another study going on, is also that one is actually some individual already had a cochlear implant. However, we are interesting how their brain process speech sound, because there’s a variation in those individual who already have cochlear implant. They actually have different speech perception abilities. There is a big variation. So now we can now saying anything can predict, however we can find a newer mechanism which is the foundation of how our brain can hear.

Dr. Wang: So that’s why there’s another study is individual who actually have cochlear implant, and we’re welcoming you to come to our lab and contact me. You can call us at 402-427-0106, or you can email us at [email protected] as well. To get into study, you will get compensated for your time and for your visits.

Dr. Miller: I was just going to say is there a cost to this or how does it work.

Dr. Wang: No, there’s no cost for you actually and then you get all the [inaudible 00:09:19] for free and scan for free and then we also give you $60 for per visit. Usually it less than two hours, we’ll say, control everything within two hours. You get $60 for that two hours.

Dr. Miller: Wouldn’t you like to know what your brain is doing on the inside for neuroplas… I just love the fact that-

Dale Johnson: My wife asks that all the time. What are you thinking?

Dr. Miller: What are you thinking? We talked a little bit off air today too, about how just the technology, what we talk about, and how the brain, where we’re seeing this technology, where you can be thinking something and eventually it’s coming out as a speech signal without the mouth even moving. And I just think that is unbelievable. So when we think about so many things in terms of what the brain is capable of doing, but just the research you’re doing is so valuable, and just figuring out, predicting like is there going to be somebody who’s going to be more successful or less successful depending on what this looks like. I think it’s fascinating.

Dr. Wang: I think it’ll give us a better idea about the procedure actually itself too. And also I want to mention is I also welcome any people from out of states, and then nearby states we pay a travel stipend. So up to $120. So if you interested, let us know.

Dr. Miller: What is your website?

Dr. Wang: My website is thewanglab.com.

Dale Johnson: To deepen the appreciation of what we’re talking about here today, how cutting edge is this, coming out of the University of Nebraska? I think people really don’t realize what we have here, in Lincoln, at the university.

Dr. Miller: Oh so true.

Dr. Wang: University of Nebraska, Lincoln is the only university I know has actually the imaging system, the 3 Tesla MRI machine, right in the stadium, which can do the scan right onsite, even like when the athletes get hurt. And also we not only just have the MRI machine, we have like a different imaging modality as well, like electrical cephalography, which is EEG system, detecting your own electric activities and also [inaudible 00:11:30]. It’s a optical imaging methods to really looking to brain functioning as well. That’s kind of, I would say, state of art. And then bringing this research to Lincoln, even saying that the research in the nation is actually cutting edge, and not a lot of this type of research have been done in the United States. I think they have been done some of them in United Kingdom, University of Nottingham, and some university in Australia, but not actually in the United States.

Dale Johnson: Right here in Lincoln.

Dr. Miller: Right here in Lincoln. Don’t miss it. And now you know Dr. Wang.

Dale Johnson: And this conversation is going on here in Lincoln, Nebraska. Join us every Saturday. Dr Wang, thank you for staying for a couple of very interesting conversations.

Dr. Wang: Thank you for having me.

Dale Johnson: Dr. Miller, thank you for bringing in Dr. Wang.

Dr. Miller: Absolutely.

Dale Johnson: The conversation starts here every Saturday morning on KFOR.