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Houston: Indian American neuroscientist Khaleel Rezak has been awarded $ 866,902 grant for research on brain processes that could lead to therapies for age-related hearing problems.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded Rezak the five-year grant under its Faculty Early Career Development Program for further research on his projects.

Rezak's research on how the brain processes everyday sounds may lead to therapies for age-related hearing problems and Fragile X Syndrome (FXS), an autism spectrum disorder.

Originally from Chennai, Razak is an assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of California, Riverside (UCR).

Age-related hearing loss is the most preventable hearing-related problem in the world, he said. "People develop problems with processing rapid changes in sound frequency," he added.

His lab at UCR focuses on how the brain processes behaviorally relevant sounds and how those mechanisms are altered by developmental experience, disease and ageing.

"It's a processing deficit that accumulates with age, a declining ability to distinguish, for example, the difference between 'bah' and 'dah'," he said.This problem gets more acute in difficult listening conditions such as a noisy room. While hearing aids amplify sound, they don't improve speech recognition because the brain itself has changed, he added.

"We hope to identify neuron types that seem to be lost or changed during ageing. There may be combinations of behavioral or pharmacological therapies that could delay or prevent these changes," Rezak said.

The grant will support research on how the brain's auditory cortex processes information about sound locations.

"Precise sound localization can be a matter of life and death," he explained. "The auditory cortex is necessary for sound localization, but our understanding of the relevant neural processing is rudimentary.

"Sound localization is also interesting from a computational perspective because we explore how neurons integrate inputs from the two ears."

The NSF funding will also allow Razak to investigate neural computations that generate cortical maps underlying sound localization behavior in the pallid bat.

"The pallid bat is a bit unusual among bats in that it uses echolocation for general orientation and obstacle avoidance, but listens for prey on the ground, like crickets, scorpions and millipedes," he said.

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