Using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to understand deafness and brain plasticity


Event details

Date and time 27.02.2017 15:0016:00  
Place and room
Speaker Prof. Colette McKay, The Bionics Institute of Australia.
Category Conferences - Seminars

fNIRS is a recently developed brain imaging technique that uses near-infrared light to detect changes in oxygenated and de-oxygenated haemoglobin (HbO and HbR, respectively) in the outer layers of the cortex. Compared to fMRI, it has better temporal resolution and poorer spatial resolution, and compared to EEG is has better spatial resolution and poor temporal resolution. The major advantages of fNIRS over fMRI and PET imaging are that it is non-invasive, is patient and user friendly, is portable, is compatible with implanted devices such as cochlear implants, and is not affected by electrical artefacts. The major disadvantage of fNIRS is that it can only image activity in the outer layers of the cortex.

At the Bionics Institute, fNIRS is being used by the Hearing Research Group to investigate the effect of deafness and cochlear implant use on brain plasticity and brain connectivity in adults who use, or are planning to receive, a cochlear implant. We are also planning to use fNIRS to study language development in deaf children. In this presentation, I will outline the principles behind fNIRS imaging and give examples of experimental protocols and analysis methods that are used in our lab and in other labs. Example data and preliminary results will be presented.

Our results show that fNIRS can show large differences in resting state connectivity between cochlear implant users and normal hearing adults, and that brain activity level in certain regions of interest evoked by speech stimuli is highly correlated with speech understanding in cochlear implant users.

Professor McKay is an international leader in the field of psychophysics with electrical stimulation, and her multidisciplinary research combines psychophysics, electrophysiology, imaging, speech perception, speech processing and mathematical modelling with the aim of improving outcomes of auditory implants. She contributed significantly to the design and signal processing strategies used in the family of cochlear implants manufactured by Cochlear Ltd. 

She graduated and received her PhD from the University of Melbourne in the fields of mathematics and physics. From 1991-2004, she was Research Fellow, Senior Research Fellow, and then Principal Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne Department of Otolaryngology. From 2005 to 2013 she held chair and research group leadership positions at Aston University, Birmingham, and Manchester University in the UK. Since 2013 she has led the Translational Hearing Research group at the Bionics Institute.

Practical information

  • Informed public
  • Free



  • Bruno Herbelin