Schulich school of Medicine and Dentistry logo Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry

Research aims to aid the hearing impaired

Stephen Lomber, PhD

“I actually chose this colour,” Stephen Lomber, PhD, said with a laugh as he gestured to the dark green walls of his ninth-floor office. “I brought the paint cans in and everything, because the first colour the painters chose was this awful, bright green.”

An impressive assortment of books lines the perimeter of Lomber’s working space. Knick-knacks and photos of all shapes, sizes and origins are scattered across various wooden surfaces, including a framed picture of Dos Equis’ “Most Interesting Man in the World” leaning against a wall close to the door.

Take one glance around Lomber’s office, and it’s evident he enjoys adding a personal touch to the things with which he’s involved. Since joining Western University as a faculty member in 2006, he has made a similar mark on the institution through a variety of exciting research endeavours, and by developing the Cerebral Systems Lab.

“I have a joint appointment with the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, and with the Department of Psychology with the Faculty of Social Sciences,” Lomber explained. “The work of the Cerebral Systems Lab involves both Departments, and is guided by the question ‘how does experience influence brain development and influence adaptive neuroplasticity?’”

In order to answer the question, Lomber and his team are currently pursuing three avenues of investigation: cortical processing and organization in the hearing subject, in the congenitally deaf, and in the deaf following cochlear implant.

“What we are really interested in is how the auditory cortex functions, and we are doing this by comparing animal models that can hear, animal models that are deaf, and animal models that have received a cochlear implant” he said.

The main reason Lomber originally wanted to move to continue his work at Western was the imaging technologies available at the Schulich Medicine & Dentistry far surpassed the equipment he had to work with at the University of Texas.

Lomber explained a lot of what he and his team are working on has direct applications to the people or to a clinical environment because cochlear implants are one of the world’s most successful prosthetics. Approximately 500,000 people worldwide have received them to date, and it is estimated by 2020 there will be over one million people worldwide with the implant.

Even though these implants work quite well, not all patients have a successful outcome. Lomber wants to know why.

He is trying to determine whether they can predict the level of success a patient will have by giving them an fMRI prior to a cochlear implant. This could possibly help make modifications that could improve some patients’ situations.

Lomber explained his research journey has been far more interesting than he would have ever imagined, and he has had a wonderful and supportive experience so far at Western.

“This is the greatest job in the world,” he said. “It’s wonderful because you get to decide what you’re going to work on, and the great thing is being able to take an idea and seeing it through to the end.”

Even though Lomber spends the majority of his waking hours working on his research, he and his wife enjoy gardening and discovering new restaurants and  places across Canada — from the outskirts of London to the Rocky Mountains in British Columbia.

If he finds an interesting souvenir during their upcoming travels out west, he's likely to add it to his office collection.