Sonic Innovations Sells Diagnostic (Tympany) Division

Salt Lake City—Sonic Innovations Inc has sold its auditory testing equipment division, Tympany Inc (Tympany), to a private third party, Tympany Holdings, LLC.

Tympany, which was purchased by Sonic in December 2004, develops, manufactures and sells the Otogram™, a proprietary, automated diagnostic hearing testing device (see January 2005 HR News). Tympany generated losses of $2.2 million in 2006 and $12.7 million in 2005. Earlier this month, Sonic announced the Tympany division was available for sale, and treated Tympany as a discontinued operation in its consolidated operating results, and as “held-for-sale” in its consolidated balance sheet at December 31, 2006 (see the February 8, 2007 HR Insider).


An error occurred in the reproduction of Figure 4 in last month’s article, “Upgrading Children to Super-power MCNL Aids: Clinical Trial Using an A-B-A Method” by Mark Flynn, PhD, and Randi Pogash, AuD. The correct figure appears above. HR regrets the error.

“Sonic’s core competency is providing our customers with superior quality hearing aids and related services,” said Sam Westover, Sonic’s President and CEO. “The decision to sell the Tympany division is another step in our renewed focus to provide maximum shareholder value by concentrating on our core business and our commitment to enhance our customer relationships.”

Stem Cell Transplants Explored to Fight Deafness

PALO ALTO, CALIF—As a leader in stem cell-based research on the inner ear at the Stanford University School of Medicine, Stefan Heller, PhD, has a step-by-step plan for developing a cure for hearing loss.

However, he says it may take another decade or more. Heller discussed his stem cell research during a panel discussion February 17 in San Francisco at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the publisher of Science. The AAAS session was titled “Hearing Health: The Looming Crisis and What Can be Done About It” (see January 11, 2007 HR Insider.)

James Battey, MD, director of the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), lauded Heller as “one of the leading auditory neuroscientists.” Heller’s vision is to develop a variety of possible cures for deafness. For the past year and a half, he has been focused on two paths: drug therapy—which could be as simple as an application of ear drops—and stem-cell transplantation into the inner ear to remedy hearing loss. Currently, he’s working on perfecting the steps toward eventual stem-cell transplantation into humans, with the goal of first curing deafness in mice within the next 5 years. His lab is also busy studying the ability of chicks to regenerate the tiny hair cells in the cochlea.

The idea of using drug therapy to cure deafness has become more plausible as a result of successes in the field of stem cell research during the past 7 years. Heller gained international attention in 2003 for identifying stem cells that reside within the inner ear. Since then, his research has focused on using stem cells to regenerate the critically needed hair cells in the inner ear. Later, in 2003, his group demonstrated that it is possible to coax embryonic stem cells in a test tube to differentiate into hair cells—and then also to have the stem cells differentiate after transplantation in the ears of chicken embryos.

The two different approaches—new drugs and stem cell transplants—are important because drug treatments are unlikely to help everyone. For some people with genetically caused hearing disorders, he explains, no drug is likely to help. “For them, stem cell transplantation may be the answer,” Heller says.