Living Electrodes for Hearing Rehabilitation

Halle Kincaid




Assistant Professor

Project Summary

Sensorineural hearing loss affects roughly 9 out of 10 people with hearing loss. As the name implies, sensorineural hearing loss can be caused by damage to the sensory organs (typically hair cells in the cochlea) or the auditory nerve. The cochlear implant, a device surgically implanted in the cochlea, attempts to restore the function of damaged hair cells. Meanwhile, an auditory brainstem implant, an electrode implanted in the midbrain or cortex, attempts to restore the function of a damaged auditory nerve. In our research project, we attempt to re-create the neural auditory pathway that extends from the cochlea to the auditory cortex. To do so in-vitro, we are harvesting 3 neuronal subtypes (spiral ganglion neurons, cortical neurons, and thalamic neurons) from postnatal rats. Then, we culture the neurons in microelectrodes that allow the subtypes to extend axons and dendrites bidirectionally to neighboring subtypes, as they would in-vivo. After conducting tests of growth and electrical activity of the in-vitro microelectrode, we will implant it back into postnatal rats suffering from neural loss.

Through this research experience I learned how to become more independent in a lab setting and was able to carry out basic, necessary procedures away from supervision. I also learned how to take a large concept and design experiments that would help lead to a conclusion regarding our hypotheses. Apart from actual scientific concepts, I learned what it was like to work in a new developing lab, which involved lab space setup along with other logistical concerns of acquiring proper materials and spaces. As I was a part of a small lab, I was able to make more executive decisions about the direction of the project and what types of experiments should be run.

Participating in this research project contributed to my educational experience by giving me basic skills in logical reasoning and application of these thoughts into a method to find an answer. It also helped me learn how to collaborate with others in academic settings as this was necessary for coordinating experiments.

To see my poster, please visit Penn Presents: