BEYOND scrutinizing the mysteries of the human brain, Cuba’s Neurosciences Center (CNEURO), maintains as its first priority the placing of its arsenal of knowledge and advanced technology in the service of primary health care.
This has been the approach of investigators who, in the mid 1980’s, began studies related to the early detection of hearing disorders in children. Since then the principal contribution of these highly qualified scientists has been the design and production of most of the equipment used in this valuable effort.
These efforts led to the development of early versions of the NEURÓNICA, a machine designed to evaluate auditory strength and other indicators, and the
AUDIX, which, based on the combined application of computer science and electronics, represented a quantitative leap in the ability to detect deafness in the first year of a child’s life.
As Dr. Pedro Valdés Sosa, CNEURO deputy director, explained, young children with auditory problems not only lose their hearing, but also face difficulties in language development, thinking and academic performance in general, as well as social adaptation, in many cases.
UNMEASUREABLE SOCIAL IMPACT
Under the guidance of the Neurosciences Center, Cuba has accumulated significant experience over 25 years in this type of monitoring, which first began in neonatal and pediatric intensive care centers.
It was later extended to other units within the national health system and to the primary care level, as staff was trained, equipment and software developed by CNEURO. This work has had, as one of its first principal promoters, Dr. María Cecilia Pérez, a widely recognized authority in the field.
According to specialists, timely detection and treatment of auditory problems support the development of communication and intellectual abilities in many patients, which additionally allow for better integration into society and work.
Having reliable records about the prevalence of auditory disorders in children allowed for Cuba’s introduction of cochlear implant surgery, which has, as of this point, benefited 240 patients, the majority of them deaf, including some who are blind as well.
This involves the placement within the ear of an electronic device, which captures sound and transforms it into electronic impulses which reach the brain, thus re-establishing auditory communication. The surgical procedure requires specific adaptations for those without an auditory opening.
The cochlear implant program involves the participation of different institutions and multi-disciplinary groups of scientists.
As part of the national study of disabled persons launched in 2003, testing for auditory disorders was implemented on a massive scale with tens of thousands of children participating. Thus, in the cases of many children, the definitive loss of hearing was prevented with timely, appropriate treatment.
Dr. Pedro Valdés Sosa recalled that Cuba has contributed equipment and skilled personnel to similar efforts in Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Nicaragua.
Since the end of 2010, Cuba’s Neurosciences Center has introduced advanced techniques in three-dimensional scanning to support the design and digital fabrication of components for hearing aids.
Engineer Ernesto Rodríguez Dávila, director of Technical Production and Services, explained that this allows for greater precision in adjusting devices to the anatomical characteristics of each patient’s ear and in meeting the audiologist’s requirements.
"Personalizing hearing aids, providing the aesthetic and ergonomic features demanded, reduce to a minimum the misfits which can occur with conventional methods. We are providing excellent services, according to current internationally recognized standards."
He indicated that efforts to reduce the size of these devices, improve their durability and quality will require the development of new bio-materials and the introduction of novel solutions based on the use of nanotechnology and other cutting edge sciences.
If in fact, the national auditory testing program is the most long-standing and visible effort undertaken by CNEURO, the institution is today leading the country’s development of Neurotechnology, an emergent branch of a promising industry devoted to producing a new generation of products for the diagnosis and treatment of cerebral disorders and improving mental faculties.
The Center has also made great strides in the study of epilepsy, learning disorders - including reading problems – autism and other behavior problems, in addition to participating in important international projects including the mapping of the human brain, which will allow for a better understanding of the development of this vital organ, from early childhood through advanced age, and expand knowledge of neurological diseases.