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Study to focus on how -- and what -- we hear. A team led by Associate Professor Gerald Kidd, chair of Sargent College's department of communication disorders, is beginning a study that will help determine how people are able to focus on certain sounds and tune out others. "A common problem with hearing aid users is background noise," Kidd says. "Hearing aids may help a great deal in a quiet room, but may not help when the user is surrounded by many voices or other sounds that interfere with what they want to hear. We're developing a new test to measure difficulty hearing in noisy environments, based on a relatively new theory of auditory masking."

The study has received a one-year $31,400 subcontract for research from the Veterans Administration's Rehabilitation Research and Development Service. The project, "Assessing Informational Masking in Listeners with Sensorineural Hearing Loss," involves conducting hearing tests on 50 subjects with varying degrees of hearing loss to determine how certain kinds of sounds interfere with specific target sounds. Kidd adds, "Hopefully, this test will provide a better description of hearing difficulties and the benefits provided by hearing aids."

Easy-to-stomach ulcer test now available. Gastroenterologists at Boston Medical Center have developed a simple breath test to detect the bacteria that cause many ulcers. The C-14 breath test is a quick, noninvasive, less-expensive alternative to the traditional blood test or endoscopy procedure needed to determine the cause and best treatment for an ulcer.

The Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacterium, which is the most common bacterial infection in humans, is responsible for nearly 60 percent of ulcers -- painful lesions inside the lining of the gut. While the lining of the stomach walls can normally withstand its acidic environment, H. pylori weakens the lining, eventually producing an ulcer. Ulcers can also be caused by the chronic use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as Motrin and aspirin, as well as by oversecretion of acid in the stomach.

"Since the majority of ulcers are associated with H. pylori infection, a breath test that can accurately detect the presence of this infection in as little as 20 minutes will allow a patient to start treatment immediately with less expense and bother," says Michael Wolfe, M.D., chief of gastroenterology at Boston Medical Center and associate professor of medicine at the School of Medicine. "With this test, we also have the ability to change therapies by easily monitoring a patient's progress," he adds.

Using the C-14 breath test, an ulcer patient swallows a capsule containing urea, a common by-product of human metabolism. If H. pylori is still present in the stomach, the urea will be converted to ammonium and specially "labeled" carbon dioxide, which can be detected through the breath test. If not, the urea is excreted through the body.

Wolfe, author of Heartburn: Extinguishing the Fire Inside, notes, "This test is only for previously diagnosed ulcer patients with H. pylori infection. However, because the test is so accurate and easy to use, we expect it to become widely used in the near future."

"Research Briefs" is written by Joan Schwartz in the Office of the Provost. To read more about BU research, visit


15 May 2003
Boston University
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