Sophie Bouton: laureate of a 2016 Research Fellowship
Project : Studying brain plasticity before and after a cochlear implant.
The first year of a newborn baby’s life is critical for language development. During this period, the brain receives different types of stimulation, especially auditory, which it processes to identify sounds corresponding to words, as the first step toward language acquisition.
The brain’s auditory network is less stimulated in children who are deaf than those who can hear. To compensate, the deaf child’s brain responds more to visual stimuli, developing a denser visual network.
At any age, the brain is capable of brain plasticity, or creating, modifying and reorganizing its connections and networks. So what happens when a deaf infant receives a cochlear implant during his or her first year? How does the brain reorganize its auditory network and adapt its activity to process the words delivered by the implant?
To answer this question, Dr. Bouton will study brain activity in newborns with the help of functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), an innovative brain imaging technique that can be used with cochlear implants. Before and after an implant, the children will receive three types of stimuli: auditory, visual and audiovisual. The idea is to compare each child’s ability to identify sounds before and after the implant, and to determine whether children with implants can identify sounds like children with normal hearing.
This study should lead to recommendations for teachers and speech therapists aimed at improving the support provided to children after a cochlear implant.