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Current Events


If you’ve seen and heard the "Yanny and Laurel" video making the rounds lately, you may be convinced of hearing one word, while the person next to you hears something different.  SHBT students Dana Boebinger and Kevin Sitek give a scientific explanation for the ambiguous speech percept behind the viral video that has been circulating on the internet and social media recently:

"The main reason (I suspect) people hear this differently is because different headphones and speakers filter the frequencies of the sound in different ways," tweeted Dana Boebinger, a Phd student at Harvard and MIT studying auditory perception. 



Dissertation Defense:

Andrew Mitchell Ayoob

Progress Toward Improved Drug Delivery to the Inner Ear: Methods of Measuring Intracochlear Drug Distribution and Materials-Based Approaches for Controlled Release


Monday, May 7, 2018 at 1:30 PM

Koch Institute, MIT Building 76 Room 156 (76-156)

Cambridge, MA 02139

Advisor: Robert Langer



Rachel Romeo
Environmental influences on the neural basis of language and reading development


Monday, April 30, 2018, 10 AM
MIT Building 46 (BCS Complex), Room 46-3002 (Singleton Auditorium)
43 Vassar St, Cambridge, MA 02139


Children’s environments early in life can have a profound influence on brain development, which provides the foundation for language and cognition. These environments include broad, distant factors such as one’s socioeconomic status (SES), as well as more immediate influences, such as how many words a parent speaks to a child. In this thesis, I describe two studies investigating specific brain-environment relationships, progressing from distal to proximal influences on children’s language and literacy development. The first study examines how SES relates to reading and cortical structure in 6-9 year-old children with reading disability (RD), before and after an intensive summer intervention. At baseline, SES was correlated with children’s vocabulary and cortical thickness in bilateral perisylvian and supramarginal regions. Furthermore, SES uniquely predicted reading improvement and cortical growth, with lower-SES children exhibiting the greatest behavioral and neuroanatomical changes. These findings contribute to the literature on socioeconomic effects on neuroanatomy and neuroplasticity by investigating these relationships in a developmentally atypical population. The second study explores how the real-world language exposure of younger children (ages 4-6 years) relates to their oral language skills and both structural and functional brain development, independent of SES. While the sheer amount of adult speech was unrelated to neural measures, the amount of adult-child conversational turns was strongly related to Broca’s area activation during language processing, as well as the coherence of left hemisphere white matter tracts connecting Broca’s area to auditory regions. Both neural measures in turn predicted children’s verbal skills, suggesting that conversational experience impacts language development via these neural mechanisms. This is the first evidence directly relating children’s immediate language environments with brain development. The combined results of both studies expand on the well-documented socioeconomic differences in linguistic skill (the “achievement gap”) and concomitant brain development and suggest that these differences may arise as a result of variance in children’s interactive language experiences early in life. Implications for social, educational, and clinical practices are discussed.



Jennifer Zuk
Sowing seeds of literacy: Factors that promote language and reading acquisition along the neurodevelopmental trajectory from infancy to school age


Thursday, April 26, 2018, 11 AM
Harvard Medical School, Building C, Cannon Room
240 Longwood Avenue, Boston, MA 02115


Learning to read is crucial for academic and societal achievement. Dyslexia, a prevalent learning disorder specific to reading, is typically identified only after persistent difficulty with reading. Early identification and targeted instruction for children at risk for dyslexia offers great potential to employ a proactive (rather than reactive) approach; however, effective implementation requires further specification of factors that contribute to subsequent outcomes, how early these factors arise, and the role of environmental experience. Therefore, this dissertation investigated factors that promote language and reading acquisition through a series of multidimensional neuroimaging studies that span the developmental trajectory from infancy to school age. The first study examined factors associated with better reading outcomes among at-risk children in a longitudinal investigation from kindergarten through second grade. At-risk children were classified by early screening, then characterized behaviorally and with diffusion-weighted imaging, and longitudinally tracked to evaluate subsequent word reading outcomes. Kindergarten-age factors on cognitive-linguistic, environmental, and neural levels were observed to significantly differ between at-risk children who subsequently did not develop dyslexia relative to those who did, suggesting that these factors, present at the start of formal instruction, may promote reading acquisition. The second study evaluated the role of environmental experience through the lens of musical training. In this functional magnetic resonance imaging study, school-age children with musical training demonstrated enhanced activation during reading-related processes in brain regions disrupted among children with dyslexia. This suggests that musical training is associated with activation in regions important for reading, which could potentially facilitate the development of a compensatory neural network that may support reading development among children with dyslexia. The final study considered how early these factors may arise by examining the extent to which brain structure in infancy may relate to subsequent language and precursor literacy skills in preschool. This longitudinal diffusion-weighted imaging study found that white matter pathways in infancy were positively related to several aspects of language and precursor literacy skills in preschool. Collectively, these studies suggest a dynamic interaction between predispositions from infancy and environmental experience in shaping the developmental trajectory of language and reading acquisition. These findings carry important implications for educational and clinical practice.



Research Study


Normal Hearing Volunteers Wanted for Research

The purpose of this research is to develop a valid and reliable diagnosis that will detect - in normal hearing subjects - if noise exposure has begun to change the way the auditory nerve responds to sound. Study sessions include filling out a questionnaire, behavioral and electrophysiological hearing assessments and performing tasks such as repeating words in noise to help us learn about hearing and perception. See attached for details.




2017-2018 Amelia Peabody Scholarship awarded to Kevin Sitek and Jessica Sagers


Kevin Sitek          Jessica Sagers


The 2017-2018 Amelia Peabody Scholarship has been awarded jointly to Kevin Sitek and Jessica Sagers, fourth- and third-year students in the Speech and Hearing Bioscience and Technology (SHBT) Program, respectively.


Kevin is doing his doctoral research with Dr. Satrajit Ghosh at MIT. He plays a key role in a collaborative multi-center study involving Dr. Elliott Kozin, Dr. Aaron Remenschneider and Dr. Daniel Lee at Massachusetts Eye and Ear (MEE), as well as physicians at Boston Children’s Hospital and imaging experts at the MGH Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging. A goal of this project is to create a high resolution atlas of human subcortical auditory structures and their interconnections using cutting edge MRI techniques. His project may lead to better diagnostic and treatments for patients with congenital forms of sensorineural hearing loss. Kevin is the author of two first-author publications in high-quality journals.


Jessica is doing her dissertation research with Dr. Konstantina Stankovic at MEE. She and Dr. Stankovic initiated a collaboration with Dr. Chirag Patel in the Department of Biomedical Informatics at Harvard Medical School and used a novel computational tool to predict and validate the repurposing of an FDA-approved drug for the treatment of vestibular schwannomas using gene expression data. Jessica now plans to create the first patient-specific cellular models of neurofibromatosis type 2 using pluripotent stem cell lines taken from individual patients. She has authored papers accepted by Scientific Reports and the Journal of Visual Experiments.


The Amelia Peabody Scholarship was established in 2008 through a generous donation to support SHBT students working with MEE faculty. The selection was done by a committee consisting of Dr. Bradley Welling (MEE), Dr. Louis D. Braida (MIT), Dr, John Rosowski and Dr. Bertrand Delgutte (MEE).



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