DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – A new device developed by Duke researchers could help prevent hearing loss in children.

It’s called a mobile health tympanometer – used for evaluating infection-related hearing loss.

The hope is it could be used to identify children in need of care in rural populations where medical access is limited.

“It’s to actually deliver a technology that lets a population get screening that currently just can’t at all,” said Mark Palmeri, professor of the Practice in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Duke University.

Current tympanometers are available but are not commonly included in screening programs due to cost and the need for an audiologist.

Palmeri, who is an engineer on the project, says the idea to develop an affordable and accessible version of the device came from Duke global health professor Susan Emmett and audiologist Samantha Robler whose work identified a gap in screening tools.

“Their vision was to take what highly trained individuals and more expensive equipment can do and actually have laypeople be able to have a device that they can use in a school setting potentially and use some sort of a machine learning type algorithm to acquire data, process it and then determine if kids are at risk for potentially losing their hearing due to a preventable cause,” Palmeri said.

The World Health Organization finds about 60 percent of hearing loss in children can be avoided through prevention measures.

Palmeri says the long-term goal is to make improvements on a public health level and reduce hearing loss rates in children.

“We know that children who experience eventual hearing loss are just not as productive members of society and can’t have a high quality of life and so our ability to potentially make an improvement in that space is what we really prioritize,” he said.

The team expects to have the device ready to hand off for testing in volunteers by the end of this year and they aim to start incorporating it in clinical trials in 2023.

To learn more about the project, click here.