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A smartphone hearing aid intervention for underserved communities (GCRF)

Project Description

Hearing loss affects close to 1.3 billion people and is a growing global health concern as a leading contributor to years lived with disability (Swanepoel et al., WHO Bulletin, 2019). Hearing loss has been called the ‘invisible disability’, but it has enormous economic and personal consequences, particularly in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) where more than 1 billion people with hearing loss live (Wilson et al., Lancet, 2017). People in high income countries may also be poorly served for hearing health care, due to immigration, poverty and under-education.

In contrast to these dismal statistics, more than 80% of people internationally, including LMICs, have access to a smartphone. Our vision has been to harness the power of the smartphone to test and treat hearing loss, especially for underserved populations. Our ongoing, collaborative effort across three continents has contributed to the development of a smartphone app (hear Digits) for sensitive and remote testing of hearing. We have run pilot studies of the app in culturally and linguistically diverse settings, and had the app adopted by WHO, the American Academy of Audiology, and 23andMe. Most recently, development has been completed of inexpensive but good quality hearing aids to be used in conjunction with the smartphone app. This project will be the first to use the hearing aids in a research setting, procedurally independent of the commercial developers (hearX).

Initial work on this project will involve more traditional approaches to calibrate and test the new hearing aid under stringent laboratory conditions. Assuming these tests are satisfactory, we will begin working with underserved populations in England and in South Africa.
The premise is that, with access to a smartphone at no additional cost, and cutting the cost of the hearing aids to an affordable level for each population, we will be able to offer a basic, but good quality hearing health package to people who are most in need of it. It is important to emphasize that both the hearing test and the hearing aids are built around cutting edge technology, utilizing the processing power of smart phones to deliver ecologically valid and sensitive measures of hearing and a self-fit hearing aid that we expect to be at least consistent with industry standards and functionally competitive with current devices.

We expect and aim to attract a large and diverse range of candidates for this training opportunity. In addition to the formal requirements of the excellent PG Cert qualification, we can offer mentorship lead by three senior professors who are world leaders and international advocates for the application of hearing science to what is arguably the most human of disabilities.

Entry Requirements
Candidates are expected to hold (or be about to obtain) an Upper Second class Honours degree (or equivalent) in a related area / subject.

If you are interested in this project, please make direct contact with the Principal Supervisor to arrange to discuss the project further as soon as possible. You MUST also submit an online application form - choose PhD Human Communication Disorders. Full details on how to apply can be found on the GCRF website

Funding Notes

The GCRF PhD studentship programme is a 4 year programme with integrated teaching certificate. There are up to 12 studentships available. Applicants can apply to one project which will start in either April or September 2020.

Funding for the programme will include tuition fees, an annual stipend at the minimum Research Councils UK rate (around £15,000 for 2019/20), a research training grant, training allowance and travel allowance.

As an equal opportunities institution we welcome applicants from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and transgender status. All appointments are made on merit.

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