Visiting student from MIT

Thursday 19 Jun 14
As part of the Erasmus Mundus fellowship program Golbarg Mehraei, PhD student from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA, will be joining the Hearing Systems’ research group for the next six months

Golbarg is a 4th year PhD student in the Harvard MIT-Program in Speech and Hearing Bioscience and Technology and works in the Auditory Neuroscience Lab at Boston University.
“My background is in Electrical Engineering. Mostly, I work with normal hearing listeners and I am specifically looking at investigating how to diagnose, or what kind of measures could be used to identify auditory neuropathy in normal hearing listeners,” she explains.
Golbarg is a member of the auditory neuroscience branch of Erasmus Mundus fellowship program. There is a network of universities involved in this program and you can apply, whether you are a Faculty or a student for a transatlantic visit. For students, it is as a minimum of six (maximum ten) months and for Faculty it is three months.
“You choose the person you want to work with from the list of labs, and then you apply with a research proposal. I chose six months, and I wanted to work with Torsten Dau at Hearing Systems.”

"I wanted to work at Hearing Systems in Denmark because I thought I would get a great feedback here"
Golbarg Mehraei

Why especially the Hearing Systems group in Denmark?
“Torsten Dau has a lot of experience, and he is an expert in auditory brain stem modeling. Because he has done a lot of work on auditory brain stem responses, I thought I would get a great feedback here. One of the goals of my project is to model auditory brain response latency changes correctly,” Golbarg answers.

The effect of temporary noise exposures
The motivation behind Golbarg Mehraei’s project is from recent animal work that shows that temporary noise exposures, equivalent to for example going to a concert for a few hours, can induce auditory fiber degeneration without permanent hearing loss.
“The audiologists might make the assumption that everything is normal, because you won’t see anything with these threshold measures. But when you look at it more closely, what you see in animals is that the noise exposure causes degeneration of auditory nerve fibers, which is hidden in these clinical threshold tests. Because when you are measuring thresholds you are measuring the fainted sound that you can hear, and you are not really getting at the supra-threshold processing in the auditory system,“ Golbarg explains.
“What we really think is happening in humans is that there is nerve fiber degeneration over time that is slowly occurring, reducing the information going to the brain, so you can have a lot of perceptual problems.”
Golbarg is looking in normal hearing listeners to see whether there is a variation across this change in auditory brainstem response latency as a function of noise and whether these differences are linked to perceptual sensitivities that can reflect auditory neuropathy.
“The timing is very important for you to be able to, for example, localize sound sources. The nerve fibers need to fire at the exact time for you to tell whether it is coming from the left or the right. One of the biggest problems is communicating in noisy surroundings,’The Cocktail Party Problem’. When you go to a party, you can have problems even with normal hearing thresholds. And I believe it is due to the reduction of auditory nerve fibers. How we will be able to detect this reduction in humans is the ultimate goal, she says.

It is just a few days ago since Golbarg arrived in Copenhagen.
What do you think about Denmark so far- is it a totally different country and culture compared to Boston?
“I don’t feel I have moved that far away and I feel comfortable so far. I really like Copenhagen, and I have already made friends, so it has been an easy transition for me. I was lucky to come in having friends of a friend, and they have been very nice and welcoming me,“she answers with a smile.

Read more about Erasmus Mundus here

Read more about the Harvard MIT Program here