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New Audiology Head Seeks to Save Hearing, Teach Future Researchers

Dr. Colleen Le Prell

Dr. Colleen Le Prell

Whether you’re at a concert, a shooting range, or are listening to headphones, Dr. Colleen Le Prell and her research team want to protect your hearing. 

Le Prell said good hearing protection, such as earplugs or earmuffs, are the best strategy. But she also said there is hope that new drug treatments undergoing clinical trials, or even some dietary supplements, may one day help when hearing protection devices are not available or practical. 

Le Prell recently joined the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences as the Emilie and Phil Schepps Professor in Hearing Science and the program head of audiology. She is one of the leading researchers in the area of hearing loss prevention. According to her studies, dietary supplements such as vitamins C and E, beta carotene, and magnesium can prevent hearing loss in animal models. 

Le Prell said the development of these therapeutic agents is essential because noise-induced hearing loss is one of the most frequent injuries among workers and soldiers. Plus, there are concerns that the prevalence of noise-induced hearing loss may be increasing in teenagers and young adults. 

“Hearing protection devices such as earplugs and earmuffs prevent noise-induced injury to the ear, but the devices may not be available when needed and are often used incorrectly Sometimes those at risk choose not to use them,” Le Prell said. 

Her research ranges from identifying possible therapeutic agents to testing them in clinical trials. “We hope that some or many of these compounds will reduce the damaging effects of noise on hearing,” she said. 

Le Prell comes to UT Dallas after serving as interim chair of the Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences at the University of Florida, where she also was the director of the Hearing Research Center. She was the lead editor on the Springer Handbook of Auditory Research edition titled “Noise-Induced Hearing Loss: Scientific Advances” (2012) and also served as co-editor on a recent volume in the Springer series, Oxidative Stress in Applied Basic Research and Clinical Practice, titled “Free Radicals in ENT Pathology.” 

In her new role based at the Callier Center for Communication Disorders, Le Prell works with students seeking doctoral degrees in audiology (AuD) and students seeking research doctorates (PhD). The UT Dallas audiology program includes research by faculty members who are studying such diverse topics as: 

  • The effects of hearing loss on speech perception in infants, children and adults
     
  • The use of hearing rehabilitation devices including hearing aids, cochlear implants and assistive listening technologies
     
  • Neuroplasticity and neuromodulation of the central nervous system to mediate tinnitus
     
  • Hearing loss prevention using behavioral, technological and investigational new drug agents 

“One of the things that is important to me is to train students to be able to access research, and to critically assess the relevance of new and existing research to their practice. We teach students today’s best practices based on the current evidence. However, some of the best practices of today will not be a best practice 10 or 20 years from now,” she said. 

One of the things that is important to me is to train students to be able to access research, and to critically assess the relevance of new and existing research to their practice. We teach students today’s best practices based on the current evidence. However, some of the best practices of today will not be a best practice 10 or 20 years from now.

Dr. Colleen Le Prell,
Emilie and Phil Schepps Professor in Hearing Science and program head of audiology in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Le Prell said she has been tasked with building a greater focus on hearing science into the AuD program, with the long-term goal of attracting talented clinicians to consider pursuing a research doctorate. 

“Individuals with dual training in clinical care and research are uniquely positioned to identify gaps in our knowledge that make evidence-based decisions difficult, to design research studies that address those gaps, and to translate new knowledge back to the clinical community. 

“We have a very strong clinical program and turn out students who are prepared to be outstanding clinicians. The entire field is struggling to find a special subset among these talented individuals — those who are going to be outstanding clinicians and who also want to do research that continues to improve hearing health care in the future. In other words, we are looking for those students who want to be tomorrow’s research leaders,” she said. 

Le Prell stressed that students interested in research also can pursue a clinically oriented PhD without pursuing an AuD, and that this path makes good sense for those individuals interested in hearing science and advances in hearing health care with no direct patient care responsibilities. 

In its most recent rankings, U.S. News & World Report named the UT Dallas audiology program third in the country. Le Prell agreed that the clinical training program is excellent, but wants it to be even better and believes that building on the variety of research experiences in the program is the path to do so. She said the expansion of the Callier Center research facilities next fall will open the door to new multidisciplinary opportunities, adding that it is an exciting time to be part of the Callier Center, as a student or a faculty member. 

“It’s phenomenal to be part of such a highly ranked audiology program,” she said. “We offer outstanding clinical and research education and will continue to be regarded as one of the top audiology programs in the country.” 

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].