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Release: Aug. 14, 2000

UI researchers receive $2.1 million grant to investigate how the brain processes speech sounds

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Researchers at the University of Iowa have received a five-year, $2.1 million research grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to determine how information from speech sounds is represented by electrical activity within the human brain.

"Humans have a remarkable capacity to understand spoken language. However, scientists are uncertain how our brains evolved to give us this unique capability," said Matthew Howard, M.D., UI associate professor of surgery and principle investigator on the study. "We want to understand how our brain extracts information from sound, and how diseases disrupt these functions."

The research program aims to address these questions by recording electrical activity in the brains of conscious patients undergoing surgery to treat epilepsy. UI researchers have developed unique experimental methods that will reveal which brain regions are engaged in detecting and characterizing speech sounds and how patterns of brain electrical activation are modified to encode speech information.

The collaborative project will involve scientists and clinicians from several UI departments, as well as investigators from the University of Wisconsin and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

From within the UI College of Medicine, Howard's collaborators include Hanna Damasio, M.D., UI Foundation Distinguished Professor of Neurology; Mark Granner, M.D., associate professor (clinical) of neurology; Ralph Adolphs, Ph.D., assistant professor of neurology; Bruce Gantz, M.D., Brian F. McCabe Professor of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery and head of the department; Paul Abbas, Ph.D., professor of speech pathology and audiology; and Christopher Turner, Ph.D., professor of speech pathology and audiology. Winston Chan, Ph.D., associate professor of electrical and computer engineering will also participate in this research project.

"This program's unique capabilities have evolved from collaborative interdisciplinary work and the University of Iowa's long standing strengths in speech, hearing and human brain neuroscience research," Howard said.

The program was initiated six years ago with seed grant funding from the UI Division of Neurosurgery, the UI College of Medicine, the Margaret W. and Herbert Hoover, Jr. Foundation, and the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust, and a training grant from the NIH. Funding from the new grant will provide salary support and augment existing funds for research equipment acquisition.


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