BHI Hires Kochkin as its New Executive Director
Alexandria, Va — The Better Hearing Institute (BHI) has hired Sergei Kochkin, PhD, to direct its hearing awareness initiatives. Kochkin, who is the originator of the Knowles Electronics MarkeTrak surveys and is widely regarded as one of the most knowledgeable experts about customer satisfaction and the dispensing market, will take over an organization that has as its mission the promotion of hearing healthcare across the US.

“On behalf of the BHI Board, I want to underscore our delight that Dr. Kochkin will be BHI’s new chief staff executive,” says BHI President and President of Oticon Mikael Worning. “He brings an extraordinary knowledge of the hearing aid industry and its end-users—and importantly, our prospective users—to his new responsibilities. I am confident that Sergei’s experience, enthusiasm, and industry reputation will enhance the full range of BHI programs for the future.”

 Sergei Kochkin

A 16-year veteran of the hearing industry as director of market development and market research for Knowles Electronics, Kochkin has created an extensive body of hearing aid marketing data through the Knowles-funded MarkeTrak survey. This data, which draws on 80,000 households within the National Family Opinion Panel, has been used extensively in industry marketing, public information, and government relation activities throughout the field and is widely regarded as the most comprehensive and reliable data on consumer buying and usage habits. The MarkeTrak survey will be continued within BHI for the future. In addition, Kochkin has served for 9 years on the BHI Board, edited the peer-reviewed journal High Performance Hearing Solutions (Vols 1-3) with HR editor Karl Strom, served as the director of the HIA’s Market Development Committee, and worked with many other hearing health organizations worldwide. In January 2000, Kochkin and HIA Executive Director Carole Rogin wrote the article, “Quantifying the Obvious: The Impact of Hearing Instruments on Quality of Life” (January 2000 HR, pgs 6-34) which summarizes the findings of the National Council on the Aging (NCOA) study comparing users and non-users of hearing instruments—one of the strongest cases made to date for hearing aid use.

Prior to joining Knowles in 1988, Kochkin worked for United Airlines as market research manager, industrial psychologist, and marketing performance manager. His educational credentials include a PhD in Industrial Psychology, an MBA in Marketing, an MS in Guidance and Counseling, and a BA in Anthropology.

“I am excited about heading up the Better Hearing Institute,” says Kochkin about his new position. “I have the same energy and passion for the hearing health industry that I had when I joined the industry 16 years ago. After completing the quality of life research in 2000, the extensive MarkeTrak studies on 25,000 consumers of hearing aids, not to mention focus group and one-on-one interviews with people with hearing loss, I have come to the conclusion that the hearing health industry makes a significant and noble contribution to society—a contribution which is not yet fully recognized. My short-term goal is to rebuild the BHI into the premier hearing health educational organization in the US. With modern technology and effective hearing health protocols, we have learned that improved hearing is associated with enhanced performance in nearly every dimension of the human experience. I am looking forward to working with all stakeholders in the hearing health industry in bringing the gift of better hearing to all those who need it.”

BHI was created in 1973 as a 501(c)3, not-for-profit corporation to promote hearing healthcare across the US. The manufacturers and suppliers who comprise the hearing industry in the US jointly fund the organization. Over the years, BHI has perhaps been best known as the producer of public service announcements about hearing loss and the importance of appropriate treatment. More recently, BHI has focused on physician-directed information about hearing loss and hearing aids (see February 2002 HR, pgs 26-28,60). The organization operates an information helpline and distributes consumer information.

Cell Phone Industry Challenges FCC’s Lifting of Exemption
Washington, DC — The cell phone industry has filed a petition with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in response to the FCC announcement to lift its exemption that cell phones be hearing aid compatible. Hailed by consumer advocacy groups and the hearing industry as a large step forward for hearing-impaired users of cell phones (see August 2003 HR, pg 12, 61), the FCC’s lifting of the exemption in July drew the ire of the cell phone industry—an industry much larger than hearing health care.

The primary objections of the cell phone industry are that the ANSI C63.19 standard for cell phone compatibility is not valid, and that hearing aid manufacturers have not adequately shielded their products from interference. The hearing industry and the consumer advocacy groups believe these points are essentially groundless (see HR August 2003 HR, pg 12, and the May 2003 HR, pg 54-56). The FCC will now provide a 90-day period for commentary during which the Hearing Industries Association (HIA) and other professional and consumer advocacy groups may provide their views on the issue.

ICS Medical Co-Founder Retires; GN Otometrics Announces Plans
Schaumburg, Ill — GN Otometrics announced that Del Bloem, president of GN Otometrics North America, retired from the company at the end of November to pursue other professional interests. His departure comes at the completion of a 3-year contract that was part of the GN Otometrics acquisition of ICS Medical in 2000. GN Otometrics is a division of GN ReSound.

“At the outset, I believed that ICS Medical was a good, strategic fit for GN Otometrics, and in the transition period following the acquisition, I think we’ve seen evidence of the complementary strengths the company now brings to the marketplace,” says Bloem. “I’m proud of the progress we’ve made and leave confident that GN Otometrics can continue to expand its industry leadership position in the coming years.”

Bloem was previously president and co-founder of ICS Medical before becoming president of GN Otometrics North America. Founded in 1981, ICS Medical introduced the first commercial computer-based electronystagmograph (ENG) in 1984. Since then, ICS has been a leader in computer-based ENG and videonystagmography (VNG) test equipment. Market research from Frost and Sullivan has attributed a 45% worldwide market share to ICS for these products. More recently ICS has introduced evoked potential (EP) technology that can be combined with ENG and videonystagmography products.

“GN Otometrics owes Del a debt of gratitude for his substantial contribution to our corporate success,” says Michael Brock, president of GN Otometrics. “He and [co-founder] Bob Simenson built a solid, profitable company in ICS Medical.” A successor has not been appointed, and Bloem’s responsibilities have been assigned to other executives within the GN Otometrics organization. Uffe Bjerg has taken on Bloem’s role as transition team leader and will continue that work out of the Schaumburg, Ill, office.

With the acquisition of ICS Medical in 2000, the GN Otometrics umbrella now includes many leading products in the areas of audiometry, immittance, OAEs, EPs, ABRs, ENGs, VNGs, live speech mapping, real ear measurements, and hearing aid testing and verification. The company says that it plans to maintain its headquarters in Denmark, an office in Germany, and its two US facilities (in Schaumburg and Bloomington, Minn). Eventually, all brands will be merged under the GN Otometrics name. The company sells in more than 70 countries worldwide.

A Bug for New Microphones
The December 11 New York Times (p G7) carried an article by Anne Eisenberg about the development of a new experimental microphone that is based on the auditory system of the tiny fly, Ormia ochracea. Ronald Miles of the State University of New York at Binghamton has received a $6.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop a small, highly sensitive silicon microphone that may one day be used in hearing aids, according to the article.

The microphone emulates the fly’s tympanal structures by using a seesaw-like configuration, with a hinge in the middle of the microphone membrane. Unlike conventional microphones which have membranes that are clamped around the periphery like a drum-head, the experimental microphone uses a hinge that rocks on a central pivot. When sound impulses reach one side of the microphone before the other, the membrane is designed to pivot, creating selective attenuation and enhanced directionality.

The same article details ongoing research by F. Levent Degertekin at the Georgia Institute of Technology who is using tiny laser interferometers to achieve directionality. The lasers essentially take a strobe-light “picture” of the membrane and then process the extremely minute deflections in the membrane for the determination of signal directionality.

During the last 4 years, the fly Ormia ochracea has attracted a lot of attention from bioengineers and hearing researchers. Scientists at Cornell University and the University of Toronto (Scarborough) have been experimenting with this tiny bug and have marveled at both its directional hearing capabilities and the applicability of its hearing structures for hearing aid microphone and signal processing (for a review, see the April 5, 2001 Nature, pgs 686-690 and the October 2001 Hearing Review Cross Currents, pg 78). Additionally, the New Scientist (April 7, 2001, pg 25) and Business Week (April 30, 2001, pg 108) have carried articles on this research.

Amplifon Continues Aggressive Acquisition Strategy in Europe
Milan, Italy — In November, Amplifon, the worlds largest hearing aid retailer and owner of Sonus and Miracle Ear in the US, announced the acquisition of Horen Nederland, a hearing aid retail network in The Netherlands. The purchase is expected to raise Amplifon’s hearing aid market penetration in that country from 27% to 35%, according to industry analysts.

HEI Receives Over $8 MM in Hearing Research Grants
Los Angeles — Scientists and physicians of the House Ear Institute (HEI) were awarded research grants totaling more than $8 million in the first three quarters of 2003. The majority of grants came from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), with one grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support research in visual speech synthesis by scientists Lynne E. Bernstein, PhD, and Ed Auer, PhD. The NIH also provided a grant to support Dr. Bernstein’s cognitive neuroscience research on audiovisual speech processing by the brain.

An NIH grant went to Caroline Abdala, PhD, for a second pediatric hearing research study in HEI’s CARE Research Lab. Her study, “Postnatal Cochlear Maturation and Sources of Immaturity,” aims to improve identification of cochlear dysfunction and provide support for development of auditory prostheses through an investigation of the final maturational stages of human cochlear function during early postnatal life. Some of Dr. Abdala’s work is summarized in the September 2003 HR article (pgs 16-22,62) that she co-authored with HEI’s Leslie Visser-Dumont, MA.

HEI’s Gonda (Goldschmied) Department of Cell and Molecular Biology also received generous NIH funding. Andrew Groves, PhD, and Neil Segil, PhD, received support for their collaborative 5-year study of stem cells in the mammalian inner. “Despite considerable interest in the possibility of hair cell regeneration in mammals as a way to restore hearing in the future, virtually nothing is known about the identity and properties of the progenitors of sensory hair cells, nor whether any cells in the mammalian inner ear have the properties of stem cells,” says Groves. “Our aim is to utilize a novel cell culture system we’ve developed to determine, among other things, if the progenitor cells in the ear are multipotent and can give rise to new hair cells, supporting cells, and neurons.”

Groves and Segil are co-investigators on another NIH-funded study to develop molecular profiles of inner ear cell populations on the basis of gene expression. This type of cell characterization can ultimately lead to positive identification of specific progenitor cell types in hair cell regeneration studies. (For more information on their work, see Groves & Segil’s article in the March 2001 HR, pg 23).

The largest NIH grant to HEI in 2003 was awarded to Laurie Eisenberg, PhD, for her research study “Assessing Auditory Capacity in Hearing-Impaired Children.” Dr. Eisenberg leads a 5-year investigation using longitudinal and cross-sectional studies to measure and track auditory-perceptual development and the emergence of spoken language in hearing-impaired children between the ages of 6 months to 5 years. “This study is unique because for the first time we are measuring many different factors that may influence a child’s speech perception performance over time,” says Eisenberg. “We’re studying contributing factors such as sensory assistance and maternal involvement to performance on tasks.”

Research scientist Jian-Dong Li, MD, PhD, continues his investigation of the pathogenesis of otitis media (middle ear infection) with two recent grants from NIH. Dr. Li’s two studies, “Regulation of Toll-like Receptors in Airway Infection” and “Regulation of Inflammation in Otitis Media,” aim to find the molecular signaling mechanisms of infection-causing bacteria and gain new insight into inhibiting inflammatory responses during infection.

David Lim, MD, and Robert Shannon, PhD, received funding to lead the imaging and engineering and cores for the HEI Hearing Research Core Center, established to support a wide range of technical and other critical services to more than 20 investigators and their collaborators. Additionally, Dr. Lim received an NIH conference grant for HEI to co-sponsor a research conference on otitis media (OM) that reviewed recent discoveries made in OM research. Dr. Lim and his team at HEI also helped identify new opportunities for future investigation and collaboration between researchers in various disciplines to advance this area of science.

Likewise, Dr. Shannon received another NIH conference grant for HEI to co-sponsor the August 2003 “Conference on Implantable Auditory Prostheses.” Shannon and other key speakers discussed the latest research and technology in hearing implants, electrical stimulation and their effects on the brain and the auditory system.

For more information, visit the HEI Web site at  

DRF to Form Hearing Health Advisory Board
Washington, DC — The board of directors of the Deafness Research Foundation (DRF) has announced that it will form a Hearing Health Advisory Board (HHAB) to be chaired by Nick Laperle, president and COO of Sonomax Hearing Healthcare Inc, Montreal, Canada. The HHAB will consist of leaders from US and international corporations, trade unions, and medical institutions working in concert to devise and enact tactics to raise public awareness and action about the tremendous impact that congenital and noise-induced hearing loss have on society.

“Hearing loss is a major and under-recognized global health problem with severe economic and social implications,” says Laperle. “Approximately 10% of the world population is affected by hearing loss, of which 28 million are Americans.”

The HHAB will carry out the DRF’s mission to make a lifetime of hearing health care possible for all people through quality research, public education, and advocacy. The HHAB’s objectives are focused on detection, prevention, intervention, and research. In particular, the board will advocate for increased funding for detection, intervention, and services for deaf and hard-of-hearing people; advocate for hearing conservation and safe hearing practices as a way of life; improve consumer access to advanced hearing technology and breakthroughs in hearing science; and provide direction for future social and academic hearing research.

With support from DRF and its constituencies, the organization anticipates that the HHAB will not only shape a public policy and public education agenda, but will also have the opportunity to advance new business relationships and build strategic alliances. According to the Director of the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, James Battey, MD, PhD, “DRF is absolutely essential to hearing research in America.” DRF also receives support from leaders such as US Rep James Walsh (NY), co-chair of the Congressional Hearing Health Caucus. According to Rep. Walsh, “DRF is one of the most effective groups promoting hearing issues in Washington today.”