OHNS Resident Dr. Ryan Bartholomew Awarded American Hearing Research Foundation Discovery Grant

December 2, 2021

Ryan Bartholomew, MD, a T32 otolaryngology–head and neck resident at Harvard Medical School, was recently awarded an American Hearing Research Foundation Discovery Grant for his research on using magnetic stimulation as a way to improve hearing outcomes in patients with hearing loss.

Each year, the American Hearing Research Foundation (AHRF) awards Discovery Grants to six-to-10 researchers who are investigating various aspects of hearing and balance disorders early in their careers. Dr. Bartholomew’s AHRF Discovery Grant, which amounts to $47,200 for one year, will fund a study that tests whether magnetic stimulation can restore hearing in guinea pigs.

Through his research, Dr. Bartholomew hopes to develop a new type of hearing device that relies on magnetic stimulation instead of electric stimulation. 

The modern cochlear implant (CI) is a hearing device that electrically stimulates the cochlear nerve to provide meaningful sound to children and adults with severe or profound hearing loss. CI outcomes, however, are poor in noisy environments. Individuals with the device also find it difficult to appreciate music. One reason for these poor outcomes is that electrical stimulation cannot activate precise groups of cochlear neurons, resulting in different frequencies blurring together.

Dr. Bartholomew is joining a team of researchers that recently demonstrated cochlear neurons in mice could be more precisely activated using magnetic stimulation in comparison to electric stimulation. By testing the precision of magnetic stimulation in guinea pigs, Dr. Bartholomew and the research team hope to better understand whether a device that uses magnetic stimulation could improve the function of auditory implants, including the CI and the auditory brainstem implant.

A number of investigators will work alongside Dr. Bartholomew on the project, which will take place in the Helene and Grant Wilson ABI Laboratory of Daniel J. Lee, MD, FACS, director of Pediatric Otology and Neurotology at Mass Eye and Ear, and M. Christian Brown, PhD, senior scientist in the Eaton-Peabody Laboratories at Mass Eye and Ear. Collaborators from Mass General Hospital include Shelley Fried, PhD, and  Jae-Ik Lee, PhD, a scientist in Dr. Fried’s laboratory who led the recent study on magnetic stimulation in mice. Mass Eye and Ear scientists Victor Adenis, PhD, and Julie Arenberg, MS, PhD, director of Audiology Research and Education at Mass Eye and Ear, will also collaborate on the project.

“Dr. Bartholomew’s work has the potential to revolutionize the use of a novel stimulation paradigm in cochlear implants,” said Dr. Lee, who serves as a co-mentor for Dr. Bartholomew in the Harvard Otolaryngology Combined Residency Program. “We are excited to work with Dr. Fried’s team at MGH to develop this technology and potentially impact the quality of life of millions of people affected by severe to profound hearing loss.”