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Audiology valley: An RDI Infrastructure and BusinessEcosystem in Audiology and Signal Processing, Strengthening the Adoption of Smart Technology and Foster New Innovations (development)´s Profile image

Audiology valley: An RDI Infrastructure and BusinessEcosystem in Audiology and Signal Processing, Strengthening the Adoption of Smart Technology and Foster New Innovations (development)

Project
01.10.2024 - 30.09.2026
Institute of Clinical Medicine, School of Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences

Funders

Main funder

Audiology valley: An RDI Infrastructure and BusinessEcosystem in Audiology and Signal Processing, Strengthening the Adoption of Smart Technology and Foster New Innovations (development) funder logo Audiology valley: An RDI Infrastructure and BusinessEcosystem in Audiology and Signal Processing, Strengthening the Adoption of Smart Technology and Foster New Innovations (development) funder logo

The project is funded by European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). The project is implemented by University of Eastern Finland.

PROBLEM
Globally, already over 480 million people suffer from hearing impairment that requires management (WHO 2021) and this number will exceed 900 million by the year 2050 as the average age of the population continues to rise. Unmanaged hearing loss causes additional societal costs of over 950 billion USD globally, due to social isolation, increased risk for developing depression, etc. Unmanaged hearing impairment is also the most significant modifiable risk factor for dementia.

In Finland, we do not yet have domestic companies or experts in the field of audiology and signal processing, although hearing-loss-related issues become more and more common due to the aging population and increases in noise exposure from headphone listening. This increases the need for more advanced technological solutions both in hearing rehabilitation as well as in signal processing more broadly. Technological innovations are necessary in order to address the cumulating global demand for better hearing care — without such innovations it is not possible to overcome the burning issues of staff shortage and maintenance of a functioning service network in healthcare. This presents a significant business opportunity and makes the theme of auditory rehabilitation relevant also for those businesses whose focus has been on other biosignals and signal processing in general. There are however not enough professionals or R&D activity in audiology and signal processing in Finland and in North Savonia. The cross-disciplinary potential in both clinical and technical fields, which is readily present in North Savonia, has not been fully explored and utilized until now. Catalysing innovation and R&D in audiology and signal processing will have a major impact in addressing the growing need for hearing care domestically and globally.

GOALS
To support Research, Development, and Innovation (RDI) activities across audiology (medical field focusing on diagnostics and care of the hearing and balance organs, requiring broad understanding of the systems of the human body) and signal processing, new multidisciplinary skills and innovations are needed. This necessitates systematic and coordinated collaboration between the health care system, basic research institutions, and industrial partners. The Audiology valley project brings together the key players that can bring about the needed advancements in audiology and signal processing by creating a RDI infrastructure and a business ecosystem to enhance the adoption of smart technology (machine learning, algorithms, health data platforms) and foster new innovations.

The Kuopio campus of the University of Eastern Finland (UEF) is in a unique position to host a high-profile multidisciplinary research center, combining cutting-edge expertise in audiology, signal processing, neuroscience, physics, and smart technologies. Close interaction and collaboration with Kuopio University Hospital and the Kuopio Health ecosystem open up new avenues for applied, translational research, product development, and commercial health services at the intersection of clinical, academic, technological and economical fields, similar to the Biobank data pool initiative. UEF’s Technical Physics has the potential to create a field of specialization for technical audiology, addressing the increasing need for experts in hearing care.

ACTIONS
The project will develop and pilot a business-oriented multidisciplinary collaboration RDI concept that utilizes the audiology laboratory being built during the Audiology valley investment project. The initiative will identify the expertise requirements necessary for business-oriented RDI activities and assess the needs for expanding the biobank data pool to facilitate innovation activities.

1) Building a business ecosystem around the expertise in hearing
2) Developing and piloting a service concept for collaboration with companies in Audiology valley
3) Assessing the needs for expanding the Biobank data pool for the establishment of the Hearing
Bank and determining its prerequisites
4) Identifying critical expertise requirements for RDI activities

The project involves identifying local businesses with the potential to expand their current operations or identifying businesses who can create new businesses around audiology and audio technology expertise. This can be achieved by either serving as subcontractors for innovation activities based on this expertise or acting as initiators of innovation activities themselves. This initiative strengthens the local Kuopio Health ecosystem and leverages the extensive network of both the National Neurology Center and other stakeholders. The entire project consists of development and investment projects.

RESULTS
The Audiology valley development project will result in:
1) A North-Savonian business ecosystem, involving regional and domestic key businesses. At least 5 new companies have been identified in Eastern Finland, in addition to the currently identified ones, and they have joined the ecosystem. The project will result in increased awareness of the Audiology valley, the business ecosystem, and the region of North Savonia.
2) Three companies and other parties of the ecosystem have participated in piloting the Audiology valley concept for developing new innovations. Companies rate the concept as beneficial and would recommend it to other businesses.
3) Needs for expanding the Biobank data pool for the Hearing Bank and prerequisites for its establishment have been prepared
4) Critical expertise requirements for RDI activities have been identified and a plan has been drafted to cover these needs and increase experts in the region

In the long term, Audiology valley will attract business and talent to the region, generating new innovations. Additionally, Audiology valley supports the development of health technology products and serves as a testing and validation environment.