New $10 newborn hearing screening device is made from earbuds

A $10 device could simplify newborn hearing screening for babies worldwide, potentially giving thousands of children in low-income countries a better start in life.

The challenge is: Almost all babies born in the US have a newborn screening before they leave the hospital. This can ensure early detection of hearing loss, helping the child to avoid talking, socializing, and delaying school that goes along with the eventual diagnosis.

Many low-income countries do not have hearing screening programs for newborns. Children in those areas are 2.5 to 3 years old when their hearing loss is diagnosed, compared to an average age of 2 to 3 months in high-income countries.

“There is a lot of health damage in the world,” said Shyam Gollakota, a professor at the University of Washington. “I grew up in a country where there was no hearing screening, because screening equipment was very expensive.”

Early identification of hearing loss can help children avoid speech, social, and academic difficulties.

The idea is: To help end this disparity, Gollakota and his colleagues developed a hearing screening device for newborns using a pair of external sensors, a microphone, and a basic smartphone – and do the same with commercial devices in clinical research.

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“The idea here is to use the many mobile devices that people around the world have — smartphones and $2 to $3 earbuds — to make hearing screening for newborns something that accessible to all without sacrificing quality,” said Gollakota.

Children in areas without a screening program are 2.5 to 3 years old when their hearing loss is detected.

How to do it: Commercial monitoring devices use speakers to send two sounds into the newborn’s ear at the same time. If the newborn hears sounds, the hair cells in your inner ear will vibrate and produce the third sound that the device can detect.

The cost of speakers that can play two sounds at once without interference is one of the reasons commercial equipment is so expensive, but the UW team found they could back it up. in that capacity by connecting two reports that play different sounds to check.

“These algorithms can be controlled in real time on a smartphone.”

Justin Chan

This probe, designed to fit inside a newborn’s ear, also has a microphone. When the sounds are played, the microphone can pick up the sounds from the newborn’s ear and send them to the smartphone for processing.

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“As you can imagine, these sounds coming from the ear are very simple, sometimes they can be difficult to hear due to the noise in the environment, if the patient’s head is moving,” the author said. Justin Chan’s father.

“We built algorithms on the phone to help us detect the signal [the third tone] despite all the background noise,” he continued. “These algorithms can run in real time on any smartphone without the need for new smartphone models.”

new hearing screening

The probe (left) feeds the data to a smart algorithm. Credit: Raymond Smith / University of Washington

The device was tested in a clinical trial involving 201 ears of people from 1 week to 20 years old, as well as 52 babies up to 6 months old – and it did the same thing. commercial equipment and correctly identify all 66 ears with hearing loss.

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While hearing monitoring devices for newborns can cost thousands of dollars, according to the researchers’ paper, the supplies for their devices cost as little as $10 and can be purchased from smartphones. second for $35 to $50 in low- and middle-income countries.

“It’s very exciting to know that the research we do will help to directly address real problems.”

Justin Chan

Looking forward: UW has now partnered with people from the University of Nairobi and the Kenyan Ministry of Health to create the TUNE project (“Toward Universal Newborn and Early Childhood Hearing Screening in Kenya”), with the goal of introducing their equipment in Kenya.

“Right now, this is a model we’ve built,” Chan said. “The next challenge is to scale this up and work with local experts in each country who understand the challenges of each situation.”

“We have the opportunity to have an impact on global health, especially for the new audience,” he continued. “I think it’s really exciting to know that the research we’re doing can help to directly address real problems.”

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