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ReSound Nexia - February 2024

GN Team Leads Efforts in Advancing the Understanding and Action Around the Link Between Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline

Alex Costa

February 1, 2024

A conversation with Alex Costa, Director of BrainWorks


AudiologyOnline: The link between cognitive decline and hearing loss has attracted a lot of attention recently. Please tell us how GN is putting this insight into action through the BrainWorks initiative.


Alex Costa: Absolutely! BrainWorks is a GN initiative we're very passionate and excited about. The past 2 years, we’ve focused resources on exploring the fascinating relationship between hearing health and brain health. 

We’re supporting scientific and medical partners around the world, conducting clinical trials alongside our key strategic partners and collaborating with leaders in both the academic and advocacy spheres. Simultaneously, we’re developing technologies that will help with early detection of cognitive decline. 

The ACHIEVE Study from Johns Hopkins has paved the way for us to look more closely at the role of hearing care as part of preventative strategies against cognitive decline. A big part of this involves working closely with audiologists, hearing care professionals, and other healthcare experts. We're committed to highlighting the importance of hearing health in overall well-being.

That's the core of what BrainWorks is all about…with an ambitious and inspiring goal to combine the best academic research out there with the latest in technological innovation…like developing digital biomarkers that can be incorporated into hearing aids to help detect subtle changes in voice that may indicate early stages of cognitive decline. 

Another crucial aspect of this initiative is to contribute to thought leadership within this field. We're not just about research and innovation; we're actively working to elevate the importance of hearing health. This means engaging with a wide range of professionals, from audiologists and hearing care experts to ENTs, neurologists, general practitioners, patient advocacy groups and public health experts.

AudiologyOnline: Please tell us a little more about some key Brainworks projects currently being pursued in your team?

Alex Costa: One of our major initiatives is developing voice biomarkers, a collaboration we're undertaking with Sonde Health. Right now, we're conducting clinical trials in the United States and India where we're focusing on how subtle differences in voice features can offer insights into mild cognitive impairment. It's fascinating work, especially as we leverage GN's expertise in audio alongside Sonde Health's skills in acoustics engineering and speech analytics. Together, we're at the forefront of health technology innovations.

We also are placing a strong emphasis on the power of private-public partnerships in advancing science. A great example of this was in November 2023, when we hit a major milestone with the launch of the PREDICTOM project.. As the hearing partner in PREDICTOM, we're focusing on pioneering early detection methods for Alzheimer's disease. This initiative, which secured $21 million EU/$23 million USD in funding from collaborating key partners, really means a lot to us as we merge our hearing health expertise with advanced Alzheimer's research looking to make a significant impact on the lives of those affected by this disease.

BrainWorks logo

AudiologyOnline: What are the anticipated outcomes and impacts of BrainWorks' current projects on both the healthcare community and the broader public?

We're really expecting to make a significant impact both in the healthcare community and among the public. Take our voice biomarker development project, for instance. We're on the brink of revolutionizing how mild cognitive impairment is screened and monitored.

By leveraging our voices for health insights, we are hopeful that we can enable earlier and more accurate interventions. This is going to be a game changer for individuals at risk of cognitive decline, as well as for the healthcare professionals dedicated to helping them.

But it's not without its challenges, especially when integrating emerging technologies like voice biomarkers into practical, user-friendly applications. We are constantly working to strike the right balance between technical sophistication and ease of use. It's a process of continuous iteration and gathering feedback to make sure our solutions are just right for both healthcare professionals and end-users.

It’s also very important that we build platforms to help spread awareness and education about hearing health, with a big aim to elevate it as a public health priority, working with partners to drive policy changes that matter.

AudiologyOnline: Looking forward, what are the long-term goals and future developments that the BrainWorks team is aiming to achieve?

Looking ahead, our long-term ambition is to further deepen our understanding of how auditory interventions, such as hearing aids, can positively impact cognitive health.

We're aiming to be at the forefront of both innovation and awareness creation. This means not only enhancing understanding in our field but also driving real, tangible improvements in people's lives.

AudiologyOnline: Can you elaborate on the operational model of the BrainWorks initiative, particularly focusing on your approach to team organization and cross-disciplinary collaboration?

BrainWorks is an initiative, but it also is an independent department that operates as an innovation unit within GN. We've adopted a partnership-centric model that's really at the heart of our operations. This model is about forging strong partnerships with technology startups, healthcare professionals, and experts in both hearing and brain health fields. These partnerships are crucial; they fuel our innovation engine with essential insights and expertise.

The BrainWorks team is a true reflection of our commitment to cross-disciplinary collaboration. We've brought together a diverse and dynamic group of professionals with capabilities that span across medical sciences, clinical trials, strategic partnerships, technology assessment, and commercial innovation.

I believe that assembling the team this way is key to our success. It allows us to dive into the emerging field of hearing-brain health from a multitude of angles. We're not just focusing on being at the forefront of technological innovation or scientific research. We're also keen on market trend analysis and driving industry change. It's a comprehensive approach, ensuring that we stay ahead and makes a real difference in the field.

AudiologyOnline: Lastly, how does the Brainwork’s initiative tie to the overall purpose of GN?

We are constantly inspired by our core belief in the power of technology to bring people closer together. This belief isn't just a part of what we do; it's the foundation of all our efforts and deeply ingrained in our team's ethos.

To me, it's a great example of our commitment to making a tangible, human difference. We are committed to exploring the connection between hearing and overall health. This pursuit isn't solely about scientific excellence – it's about changing lives.

I feel a profound sense of pride in being able to contribute to GN's overarching mission. We see technology as more than just tools; to us, they are bridges. These bridges span not just the physical distances but also connect our ears to our brains, enhancing how we experience and interact with the world around us.

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alex costa

Alex Costa

Alex Ignatius Costa has a background in both Biotechnology and Business Administration. He earned a Masters in Medical Biotechnology from NTNU in Trondheim, Norway, followed by a specialized Masters in Bio-Business and Business Administration from Copenhagen Business School. Alex has close to decade experience within healthcare and has worked extensively in the pharmaceutical industry across Copenhagen, Denmark and the Boston, USA, holding various roles within R&D including drug development to leading partnerships with patient organizations, academic & medical institution and technology start-ups. Currently, Alex is at the Director of BrainWorks, a strategic initiative within the GN Group. Here, he leads initiatives that are pivotal in closing the gap between hearing and brain health. BrainWorks is at the forefront of developing cutting-edge technologies and also driving awareness to underscore the critical role of auditory health in societal well-being

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