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University Gazette

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Little Miracles: The Surgical Team

06 bachman_ewend13_ 021For many people born with hearing loss, the problem lies in the inner ear, or cochlea, a spiral-shaped organ in the temporal bone. UNC is home to one of the largest pediatric cochlear implant programs in the country and gives more than 100 children a year the ability to hear.

Grayson Clamp is not one of those children. (Read the companion story: Little Miracles: Nothing has been calm for the Clamps, but this Christmas all will be bright)

Rather than missing the thousands of microscopic sensory cells in his cochlea, Grayson was born without the auditory nerve that connects the cochlea to the brain.

Nothing could be done for Grayson until breakthrough research at the UNC School of Medicine led to the development of an auditory brainstem (ABI) implant clinical trial. On April 9, 2013, Grayson became the first of 10 children approved to receive the implant as part of a clinical trial approved by the Federal Drug Administration.

Craig Buchman (above right), a professor of otolaryngology/head and neck surgery, teamed with Matthew Ewend (above left), chair of the Department of Neurosurgery, to perform the eight-hour operation.

The other members of the surgical team were audiologist Holly Teagle; auditory electrophysiologist Shuman He and John Grose, whose specialty is psychoacoustics.

Teagle’s primary job was to activate and program the device, while Grose and He monitored electrodes placed on Grayson’s head to track the brain’s response to the device once it was on.

“There is an anatomic spot that we know how to find, and once we got there we put the electrodes in that space. The other three team members had a role in stimulating the electrodes and interpreting the brain’s response to that stimulation,” said Buchman, who is the principal investigator in the study.

Ewend, Teagle, He and Grose are the four co-investigators in the FDA-approved study. All are faculty members in Carolina’s School of Medicine.

“We all have complementary, but overlapping, areas of expertise and that is important to establishing a team who can communicate with each other every step of the way,” Buchman said.

Their groundbreaking work continues. A 2-year-old girl received the second ABI device this past summer, and last week, a 2-year-old boy received the third device.

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Graphic: Melanie Busbee, News Services