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Detecting hearing impairments in newborns

Extensive work in the medical field at Brunel in the late 1970s led to a product designed to detect hearing impairments in babies just a few days after birth. Named the Auditory Response Cradle, or ARC, the device facilitated early diagnoses of deafness, which allows for remedial treatments to be applied before speech and social habits are affected.

Consisting of a trolley-mounted unit containing a pressure sensitive mattress and head rest, the ARC tests levels of hearing based on headrotation, respiration changes and general body activity of the infant, such as startling.

These observations - all linked to deafness - were previously made by doctors subjectively, meaning that many babies were left undiagnosed. The ARC, however, was able to electronically monitor a baby's behavioural responses to sound, determining without bias whether a child needed a hearing aid. Bringing computer engineering and health practice together, this was the first time a microprocessor was used in this field of medicine - programming a machine to recognise the criteria related to hearing loss.

Developed over an eight year periodby Brunel's Dr M J Bennett, the ARC was first used at Nottingham City Hospital and eventually purchased by the Wellcome Collection for the History of Medicine - an archive that traced medical developments. Marketed to the US, Canada, Australasia and the UK, the ARC's pioneering technology has now been expanded, and is still used today in hospitals around the world, helping hearing impaired newborns reach their full potential.