Pizza party for potential donors Feb. 9 as crowdfunding effort to support research continues.
By Bettye Miller, UC Riverside
A video game Wisp that guides players through a dark cave may lead combat veterans suffering blast wave damage to better hearing. The innovative brain-training game under development at UC Riverside will begin testing on university students this month, and may be ready for testing on veterans this summer.
UCR researchers will update potential donors on their progress at a pizza party on Monday, Feb. 9, from 6 to 8 p.m. at The Getaway, 3615 Canyon Crest Drive, Riverside. Free pizza and soda will be available to the first 100 people who register for the event. RSVP here. The event is sponsored by Experiment.com, a crowdfunding website the researchers are using to raise money to fund the project.
The team is seeking public support to raise the estimated $100,000 needed to fund the research and development of a computer game they believe will improve the brain’s ability to process and distinguish sounds. Funding generated so far through Experiment.com and the UCR Brain Game Center has supported the development of sounds the research team believes will revive auditory processing systems damaged by blast waves.
Tax-deductible donations may be given to the UCR Brain Game Center through UCR Online Giving; use the “special instructions” field to designate the gift for the “Can brain training help soldiers with brain injury regain hearing?” project.
Many combat veterans suffer hearing loss from blast waves that makes it difficult to understand speech in noisy environments – a condition called auditory dysfunction – which may lead to isolation and depression. There is no known treatment.
Building on promising brain-training research at UC Riverside related to improving vision, researchers at UCR and the National Center for Rehabilitative Auditory Research are developing a novel approach to treat auditory dysfunction by training the auditory cortex to better process complex sounds.
“This is exploratory research, which is extremely hard to fund,” said Aaron Seitz, UCR professor of neuropsychology. “Most grants fund basic science research. We are creating a brain-training game based on our best understanding of auditory dysfunction. There’s enough research out there to tell us that this is a solvable problem. These disabled veterans are a patient population that has no other resource.”
Seitz said the research team is committed to the project regardless of funding, but donations will accelerate development of the brain-training game by UCR graduate and undergraduate students in computer science and neuroscience; pilot studies on UCR students with normal hearing; testing the game with veterans; and refining the game to the point that it can be released for public use.
Auditory dysfunction is progressive, said Alison Smith, a graduate student in neuroscience studying hearing loss in combat vets who is a disabled veteran. Nearly 8 percent of combat veterans who served in Afghanistan and Iraq suffer from traumatic brain injury, she said. Of those, a significant number complain about difficulty understanding speech in noisy environments, even though they show no external hearing loss.
“Approximately 10 percent of the civilian population is at risk for noise-induced hearing loss, and there have been more than 20,000 significant cases of hearing loss per year since 2004,” added Smith, who served in the Army National Guard as a combat medic for five years.
This research also may help many other hearing-impaired populations, including musicians, mechanics and machinists; reduce the effects of age-related hearing loss; and aid individuals with hearing aids and cochlear implants.
This month the team will begin testing on UCR students to determine if the sounds developed for the brain-training game are relevant to speech perception, said Dominique Simmons, a cognitive psychology graduate student studying audiovisual speech perception. Testing will continue through late March.
If these sounds test well, they will be incorporated into a video game in which players move through a cave guided by a Wisp whose route is determined by the volume and direction of these sounds.
In addition to Seitz, Smith and Simmons, team members include Frederick J. Gallun, a researcher at the National Center for Rehabilitative Auditory Research and associate professor in otolaryngology and the Neuroscience Graduate Program at Oregon Health and Science University; and Victor Zordan, UCR associate professor of computer science who specializes in video game design and intelligent systems.