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Can You Hear This?

Jill Lafleur
Kris Khalil, Dina Zeevi, Peter Ricchiuti, Out to Lunch at NOLA Pizza

Will hearing aids become a fashion item like eye glasses? It's entirely possible if Dina Zeevi has anything to do with it. Under Kris Khalil's direction, New Orleans BioInnovation Center is a hub of biomedical research.

In a free-market economy, the role of government is often debated. On the one hand, business generally prefers to be left alone by government, interpreting the word “free” in free-market as free from regulation. On the other hand, there are any number of business organizations whose principal functions are to extract as many regulatory and tax advantages as possible for their particular industry.

In response to this lobbying, the Louisiana State government, like any good investor, does its best to diversify. The state has instituted economic development initiatives to attract and grow a wide range of businesses, from film to aerospace.

You might remember a few years ago, starting with the re-development period after Hurricane Katrina, there was a big push to create what was called New Orleans’ Biomedical District. That economic development has, as of today, reportedly created 34,000 new jobs and had an economic impact of some $3.3 billion.

The Biomedical District includes the Veterans Administration Hospital, the University Medical Center, the Louisiana Cancer Research Center, and the New Orleans BioInnovation Center.

The New Orleans BioInnovation Center provides office space, laboratories, business support, and even financial investment for biotech startups. They have a 66,000 square-foot building on Canal Street that opened in 2011, and cost $47m to build.

This size investment in a “build it and they will come” strategy takes some serious financial and science skill to navigate. Similar state-funded bio innovation initiatives in Baton Rouge and Shreveport failed. To keep the New Orleans enterprise afloat, in 2021 Kris Khalil was named Executive Director of the New Orleans BioInnovation Center.

In one type of best-case scenario, the object of biomedical innovation is to come up with a medical device that becomes an everyday piece of equipment that sells in the millions. For example, the FitBit and Apple Watch have turned the decidedly un-sexy concept of a heart monitor into a fashion item.

In the same way, eyeglasses are technically a medical device. But somehow, Warby Parker and others have turned assisted vision into what is now a fashion accessory. What’s next? Which otherwise pedestrian item that we use for medical-assisted-living could become hip and ubiquitous?

With the growing number of people walking around with ear-buds blasting sound directly into their ears, could the next medical fashion item become the hearing aid? If you’ll excuse the pun, that might not be as crazy as it sounds. Federal legislation called “The Over The Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017” finally went into effect in early 2021.

This legislation allows hearing aids to be sold in stores or online, without any consultation, prescription, or referral. As a result, some trend-spotters are predicting major growth in the hearing aid industry.

Dina Zeevi is President of the Louisiana Society of Hearing Aid Specialists, and a Board Member and Administrative Secretary of the Louisiana Board of Hearing Aid Dealers. She’s also a Hearing Instrument Specialist and the owner of a hearing aid store on the Westbank, called Hear Now.

Out to Lunch is recorded over lunch at NOLA Pizza in the NOLA Brewing Taproom. You can find photos from this show by Jill Lafleur at our website.

And here’s more lunchtime conversation about New Orleans’ health and hearing.