Researchers at the department of engineering at Aarhus University are measuring brain waves via an investigational device fitted in the ear like a hearing aid, which may ultimately allow for sleep to be accurately measured over long spans of time. The technology is called ear-EEG, and now the university has received a new grant of DKK 20 million to ensure further development of this Danish-designed method.
The method ear-EEG (ear-electroencephalography) measures extremely small voltage changes on the surface of the skin inside the ear caused by electrical activity in the brain’s neurons. The researchers say that the protected, more discrete placement makes the method more attractive than traditional EEG measurements, which use electrodes placed on top of the head.

The grant was donated by the families behind WS Audiology and UNEEG Medical and the William Demant Foundation, including Oticon.

The research group Bioelectrical Instrumentation and Signal Processing, headed by Preben Kidmose, a professor from the Department of Engineering atAarhus University, has pioneered the area for many years.

“We’ve been working on this methodology for the past 10 years, and the new center will ensure a significant expansion of our research activities within ear-EEG. Our research develops the measuring technology itself and explores what is possible to actually measure. We see a huge potential in ear-EEG, both in terms of research and applications. For example, you can use ear-EEG to characterize hearing loss much more precisely than what is practicable today. Ear-EEG can also be used for other things, for example to explore human sleep patterns and help provide a better understanding of various brain diseases,” he says in a release.

24/7 Brain Measurement Opens New Doors

One of the great advantages of ear-EEG is that the method enables measurement of brain activity outside the laboratory in a discreet and minimally intrusive manner, over a long period of time (potentially 24/7), and on large cohorts of people.

The method enables us to construct devices to measure brain activity and adapt it to the user in a radically different way than today. Among other things, Kidmose hopes it will take us a step further towards understanding the human brain.

“Ear-EEG provides a unique opportunity to measure brain in our natural environment. And that’s why we can begin to delve into things that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to measure. For example, we don’t really know much about how our sleep varies over time, and how it’s affected by our surroundings. And because we can measure sleep and patterns in the EEG that correlate with cognitive ability, we hope to get a better understanding of the correlation between sleep and cognitive ability. These are just some of the things I hope the technology will help us with,” he says.

Health-Promoting Research

The opening of the centre is important for both the William Demant Foundation, UNEEG medical, and WS Audiology. “We’re proud to support this world-leading center that can bring forward new knowledge about how we can record impulses in the ears, and how we can use this knowledge to benefit general health. At the William Demant Foundation, one of our main tasks is to support research and innovation that can help alleviate hearing health,” says Lars Nørby Johansen, chair of the William Demant Foundation.

Richard Tøpholm, CTO of UNEEG Medical, a fellow subsidiary with WS Audiology, says, “We’ve been working with Professor Preben Kidmose at AU for many years, and we’ve seen many exciting results. That’s why I’m very pleased that we’ve been able to help establish a more permanent framework for his research. Ear-EEG has the potential to help people in surprisingly many areas, and I’m sure that this centre will speed up the realization of these opportunities for the benefit of everyone.”

Underpins the University Strategy

The grant is also important for Aarhus University’s digitalization strategy, which has focus on research into next-generation technology and methods to monitor and work with the human brain, says the head of section for Electrical and Computer Engineering at the department of engineering, Aarhus University, Jens Kargaard Madsen, a senior professor of engineering. “We’re very pleased that, with this grant, we can now open the ear-EEG centre and strengthen our position significantly with a view to continuing as the world leader in this field of research,” he says.

Image credit: AU Foto