HHF Welcomes Margo Amgott as Interim CEO

By Lauren McGrath

Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) is pleased to begin the New Year with the guidance of Margo Amgott as Interim Chief Executive Officer, succeeding Nadine Dehgan’s dedicated service to the foundation. Margo will lead HHF overseeing operations and working with the Board on a search for a permanent replacement.

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“I am excited to work with HHF’s committed Board of Directors and talented staff to foster support for groundbreaking hearing and balance research,” said Margo, who will champion the start of HHF’s seventh decade of advancing scientific knowledge of hearing loss. HHF has funded research leading to the development of cochlear implant technology and biological hearing restoration in mammals. She added that she is “thrilled to be a part of this vibrant organization supporting life-changing discoveries.”

Board Chair Elizabeth Keithley, Ph.D., remarks, “HHF is delighted to partner with Margo as we continue to nurture cutting-edge research. The Board and I are confident she will be an asset during this time of transition overseeing our operations and helping us to identify the next leader for our dynamic organization.”

With 30 years of nonprofit leadership experience, Ms. Amgott’s professional history includes service to academic medical centers, higher education institutions, government agencies, and healthcare and community nonprofits. Earlier in her career, she directed New York City’s Early Intervention Program and also served as Executive Director of the NYU Child Study Center. She holds a masters degree in health policy and management from NYU’s Wagner Graduate School of Public Administration and a BA in anthropology from Barnard College.

Margo also shares a deeply personal connection with HHF. In 2014, she was diagnosed with a mild unexplained hearing loss and tinnitus in her left ear.

“I welcome the opportunity to work with HHF because of its mission to improve the quality of life for nearly 50 million Americans,” Ms. Amgott says. “I am learning professionally―and personally―from the work HHF does every day. The partnership between our remarkable scientists and our generous supporters has made demonstrable progress towards prevention and cure, and like so many others, I look forward to these vital discoveries.”

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Headlines in Hearing Restoration

By Yishane Lee

The cornerstone of Hearing Health Foundation for six decades has been funding early-career hearing and balance researchers through its Emerging Research Grants (ERG) program. Many ERG scientists have gone on to obtain prestigious National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding to continue their HHF-funded research; since 1958, each dollar awarded to ERG scientists by HHF has been matched by NIH investments of more than $90. Within the scientific community, ERG is a competitive grant awarded to the most promising investigators, and we’re always especially pleased when our ERG alumni who are now also members of or affiliated with our Hearing Restoration Project consortium make headlines in the mainstream news for their scientific breakthroughs.

Hair cells in the mouse cochlea courtesy of the lab of Hearing Restoration Project (HRP) member Andy Groves, Ph.D., Baylor College of Medicine.

Hair cells in the mouse cochlea courtesy of the lab of Hearing Restoration Project (HRP) member Andy Groves, Ph.D., Baylor College of Medicine.

Ronna Hertzano, M.D., Ph.D. (2009–10): Hearing Restoration Project consortium member Hertzano, an associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and colleagues identified a gene, Ikzf2, that acts as a key regulator for outer hair cells whose loss is a major cause of age-related hearing loss. The Ikzf2 gene encodes helios, a transcription factor (a protein that controls the expression of other genes). The mutation of the gene in mice impairs the activity of helios in the mice, leading to an outer hair cell deficit.

Reporting in the Nov. 21, 2018, issue of Nature, the team tested whether the opposite effect could be created—if an abundance of helios could boost the population of outer hair cells. They introduced a virus engineered to overexpress helios into the inner ear hair cells of newborn mice, and found that some mature inner hair cells became more like outer hair cells by exhibiting electromotility, a property limited to outer hair cells. The finding that helios can drive inner hair cells to adopt critical outer hair cell characteristics holds promise for future treatments of age-related hearing loss.

Patricia White, Ph.D. (2009, 2011), with Hearing Restoration Project member Albert Edge, Ph.D.: White, a research associate professor at the University of Rochester Medical Center, Edge, a professor of otolaryngology at Massachusetts Eye and Ear and Harvard Medical School, and team have been able to regrow the sensory hair cells found in the mouse cochlea. The study, published in the European Journal of Neuroscience on Sep. 30, 2018, builds on White’s prior research that identified a family of receptors called epidermal growth factor (EGF) that is responsible for activating supporting cells in the auditory organs of birds. When triggered, these cells proliferate and foster the generation of new sensory hair cells. In mice, EGF receptors are expressed but do not drive regeneration of hair cells, so it could be that as mammals evolved, the signaling pathway was altered.

The new study aimed to unblock the regeneration of hair cells and also integrate them with nerve cells, so they are functional, by switching the EGF signaling pathway to act as it does in birds. The team focused on a specific receptor called ERBB2, found in supporting cells. They used a number of methods to activate the EGF signaling pathway: a virus targeting ERBB2 receptors; mice genetically altered to overexpress activated ERBB2; and two drugs developed to stimulate stem cell activity in the eye and pancreas that are already known to activate ERBB2 signaling. The researchers found that activating the ERBB2 pathway triggered a cascading series of cellular events: Supporting cells began to proliferate and started the process of activating other neighboring stem cells to lead to “apparent supernumerary hair cell formation,” and these hair cells’ integration with the network of neurons was also supported.

This was prepared using press materials from the University of Maryland and the University of Rochester. For more, see hhf.org/hrp.

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Recording Electrical Responses to Improve the Diagnosis of Hearing Conditions

By Yishane Lee

Electrocochleography (ECochG) is a method to record electrical responses from the inner ear and the auditory nerve in the first 5 milliseconds after a sound stimulus, such as a click or tone burst. These stimuli can be adjusted for repetition rate and polarity, and recordings can also be taken from either the ear canal, eardrum, or through the eardrum. The main components of ECochG response are the summating potential (SP), from the sensory hair cells in the cochlea, and the action potential (AP) of auditory nerve fibers. In an October 2018 paper in the journal Canadian Audiologist, 2015 ERG scientist Wafaa Kaf, Ph.D., reviews the diagnostic applications for using ECochG for Ménière’s disease and cochlear synaptopathy, two conditions that can be difficult to pinpoint, especially early in the disease, and suggests how to improve the use of ECochG as a clinical tool.

Shutterstock

Shutterstock

Endolymphatic hydrops, or abnormal fluctuations in inner ear fluid, is believed to be the underlying cause of Ménière’s disease and its associated hearing and balance disorder. ECochG collects information about the SP/AP amplitude and area ratios that can be used to confirm a Ménière’s diagnosis, without relying solely on clinical symptoms.

Since the SP/AP amplitude ratio can vary among known Ménière’s patients, Kaf suggests including data about the SP/AP area ratio as well can help with diagnosing the disease. To further distinguish Ménière’s, Kaf suggests using ECochG AP latencies, and, building on her prior research, the effect of fast click rates on the auditory nerve latency and amplitude. Using the continuous loop averaging deconvolution technique, various properties of the SP and AP waveforms are easier to identify and parse. Results suggest that the functions of the cochlear nerve and/or cochlear synapses are damaged in Ménière’s. Earlier research that shows an abnormal acoustic reflex decay in about a quarter of Ménière’s patients, and a reduced number of synapses between inner hair cells and auditory nerve fibers, underscores the presence of nerve damage in Ménière’s.

Cochlear synaptopathy is a noise-induced or age-related dysfunction that is also causing reduced synapses between inner ear hair cells and auditory nerve fibers, resulting in tinnitus, hyperacusis, and difficulty hearing in noise despite normal hearing sensitivity. ECochG may help with its diagnosis, especially given that traditional audiograms and hearing tests have been found to miss this “hidden hearing loss.” The use of both the SP/AP amplitude and area ratios and specific auditory brainstem responses can help confirm this condition and distinguish it from Ménière’s disease.

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ECochG can also be used to help confirm the diagnosis of auditory neuropathy spectrum disorder, a problem with the way sound is transmitted between the inner ear and the brain, and other inner ear disorders. The technique can also be used to monitor ear responses, real-time, during surgeries such as a stapedectomy, endolymphatic shunt, and cochlear implantation, additional instances demonstrating how ECochG holds promise for expanded use in the clinic.

A 2015 ERG scientist funded by The Estate of Howard F. Schum, Wafaa Kaf, Ph.D., is a professor of audiology at Missouri State University.

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Hearing Loss and Disability Benefits: Who Can Qualify

By Mary Dale Walters

Acoustic trauma is a common characteristic of military life. No matter which branch served and whether in peacetime or wartime, hearing loss and tinnitus are the top two health conditions for which veterans receive disability benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Hearing impairments also may be a factor in eligibility for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. But just who can receive benefits for these conditions?

In order to qualify for both VA disability and SSDI benefits, hearing loss must be significant: Veterans must have experienced a profound loss of their auditory capacities or be fully deaf. That means individuals who fall into the “mild to moderate” range are likely not eligible for SSDI benefits, and these may include those who rely on hearing aids to improve their hearing.

If a veteran is one of the remaining 30 percent who has experienced severe hearing loss, he or she may be eligible for SSDI benefits, provided they meet the other qualifications laid out by the Social Security Administration. On the other hand, VA disability benefits allow for lesser impact and disability ratings as low as 10 percent for service-connected conditions. That’s why more veterans may qualify for VA disability income, rather than SSDI, with a hearing-related condition.

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Like all VA disability claims submitted by veterans, the better you can demonstrate that the hearing loss or acoustic trauma incurred during your military service caused or contributed to your current hearing loss today, the more likely your VA disability claim is to be awarded.

With SSDI benefits, there is one situation in which a veteran may be highly likely to receive approval: cochlear implants. Having a cochlear implant in one or both ears automatically grants an individual eligibility for SSDI benefits for a year after the procedure. Following that one-year period, recipients take a Hearing in Noise Test (HINT). Benefits are only extended if the test is failed.

If an individual does not have a cochlear implant, he or she must pass one of two tests: audiometry, which measures the “threshold sensitivity for air conduction” in both ears; or a word recognition test, where an individual must be unable to repeat more than 40 percent of the spoken words due to their impairment.

Sometimes, even if hearing loss is not profound, it can be the basis for a successful SSDI award if combined with other qualifying conditions. Hearing loss and tinnitus can cause or aggravate other medical issues such as insomnia, depression, anxiety, and headaches. Hearing loss can also be intertwined with other vestibular disorders such as vertigo, vestibular migraines, and Ménière’s disease. For this reason, hearing loss can limit functional capacity and allow you to qualify for VA or SSDI benefits. For SSDI specifically, you will need to demonstrate you are unable to gain employment due to your condition.

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If this seems a little confusing, it can be. The issue of hearing loss and dual eligibility point to the benefit of having expert help in the disability claims process. Assistance can be vital when filing a VA disability appeal. When applying for SSDI benefits due to hearing loss, tinnitus, or related conditions, it’s critical to apply immediately—and be prepared to wait. In the meantime, put together a budget and start spending smarter to protect your financial assets.

Mary Dale Walters is a senior vice president at Allsup and editor of the ebook, “Applying for Social Security Disability Insurance: Getting It Right the First Time."

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Enter the Caption Challenge

By Lauren McGrath

Captions and subtitles are a critical tool that makes information more accessible to those with hearing loss.

The technology is constantly evolving, especially real-time captioning that can be available on the go, often using smartphones.

The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act requires businesses and public venues to guarantee that people with hearing loss are not excluded from or denied services because of the lack of auxiliary aids, and this includes captioning.

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But sometimes the subtitles fall short, creating unintentionally funny gaffes that can end up going viral.

Without intending any criticism of this important accessibility method, which is so helpful for those with (and without) hearing loss to better understand speech, we are launching a fun contest— because everyone loves bloopers, and it’s a good reminder that captioning has actually improved by leaps and bounds.

Submit an original photo or screenshot of a memorable caption flub, and earn a chance to be featured in the Spring 2019 issue of Hearing Health and on our website.

Visit hhf.org/challenge to review the full contest rules and to enter. Submissions will be accepted until Friday, March 1.

 
 

Note: The contest is open to all individuals 18 years and older who subscribe to Hearing Health magazine via print (in the U.S.) or online (outside of the U.S.). Nonsubscribers are not be eligible for participation and any submission from a nonsubscriber will not be considered. To subscribe to the free quarterly, visit hhf.org/subscribe.

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You Can Lead the Way

By Col. John Dillard, U.S. Army (Retired)

Folks like you are the reason Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) has just completed its 60th anniversary year of groundbreaking work toward better treatments and permanent cures for hearing loss and tinnitus. Your donations make it possible.

Tinnitus and hearing loss, respectively, are the number one and number two disabilities reported by returning American military personnel.

Tinnitus and hearing loss, respectively, are the number one and number two disabilities reported by returning American military personnel.

Thank you for everything you do.

Living with noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus following 26 years of service in the U.S. Army, I strongly share your desire for more scientific developments — both to restore hearing and to prevent its loss.

Every person serving on our Board of Directors is also connected to a hearing disorder in some way and shares our passion for progress. It is coming. As each year passes we learn more and more about key processes in the brain and auditory system.

We’re grateful for these discoveries that bring us closer to hearing regeneration in adult mice (as human proxies for now), and toward new treatments for tinnitus, Ménière's disease, and related conditions. But we know more must be accomplished for all of us to enjoy a better quality of life.

Your generosity can make possible the discoveries we — our veterans, our parents, our children, our spouses, our friends — urgently need.

Please, if you are able, give today to HHF to fund more innovative scientists in 2019-2020 and accelerate much-needed treatments and cures.

HHF will direct 100% of your gift toward the program your choose — Hearing Restoration Project (HRP), Emerging Research Grants (ERG), Ménière's Disease Grants (MDG), or Education. Thank you for your consideration and for being part of our mission.

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Redefined Justice

By Casey Dandrea

Bob Downs was 18 years old when he received his first hearing loss diagnosis. Heading home from school one afternoon, he wandered curiously into an audiology clinic offering free hearing tests and agreed to take one. The audiologist informed him he had a substantial hearing loss and would benefit from hearing aids sold by the clinic. Skeptical and not willing to purchase hearing aids, Bob declined the treatment.

More than a decade later, Bob was driving his five-year-old son, Timmy, home from school when he discovered his distress coming from the back seat. Timmy was crying because his throat was in pain from him screaming at his father. “He was desperately trying to get me to hear him talk about his day at school, but I couldn’t hear him,” Bob said.

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Being unable to hear Tim encouraged Bob to take his hearing health more seriously and get another test. The new test results showed a hearing chart like the one presented to him as a teenager in the audiology clinic, but a lot worse. Bob has now been wearing hearing aids for 18 years.

Professionally, Bob’s hearing loss created some unexpected challenges. Shortly after he purchased his first pair of hearing aids, Bob worked in the call center of a large medical organization. His hearing loss combined with office background noise made it difficult for him to use the phone to schedule patient appointments, even with a telecoil feature for his hearing aids. The hectic environment of a medical office also made it challenging for Bob to communicate with colleagues and patients face-to-face. It was here that Bob first became highly aware of his professional limitations caused by hearing loss.

Bob was disappointed when his employer failed to provide proper workplace accommodations for his hearing loss. He brought the issue to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)—the federal agency enforces civil rights laws for employees with disabilities—but never received justice from his former employer. His former employer actually denied Bob’s hearing loss, leaving him disheartened and deeply offended.

Discouraged by this legal outcome and required to tend to an urgent family emergency, Bob resigned from his call center position at the medical clinic to return to clerical work, a previous and familiar area of expertise. Bob faced similar obstacles in this line of work, too, and felt as if he were no longer able to contribute to the support of his family. “I was constantly paranoid about failing to hear my boss or a doctor or a technician calling after me from behind and would not be able to see that they were talking to me,” Bob recalls.

Bob realized a new profession—one involving less listening—may benefit him. He returned to college and earned his Associates Degree in 2013, where he is currently working toward his Bachelor’s degree in User Experience (UX) Design, which involves coding to improve people’s interactions with technology.  

Bob’s focus in UX Design is the Web Accessibility Initiative - Accessible Rich Internet Applications (WAI-ARIA), an interface that defines a way to make web content and web applications more accessible to people with disabilities. The typical functionality used in websites is not available to those who rely on screen reading or cannot use a computer mouse. Bob wishes to expand the usage of the required technical code specifications, making more web applications accessible to people with disabilities.

Although Bob was once reluctant to accept his hearing loss diagnosis, he’s proud to understand and advocate for the benefits of hearing loss treatment today. He urges other folks not to ignore their difficulties hearing or, worse, an audiogram showing a profound hearing loss, as he did at 18.  

Bob’s ability to remain persistent through discrimination and career changes is also commendable. Though Bob was unable to receive justice for the inequality he personally faced in his former workplace, he’s now creating his own form of justice for disability access through his newfound career.

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The People Behind the Science

By Yishane Lee

Eight years ago we introduced a column called “Meet the Researcher.” Placed on the last page of the magazine (prime editorial real estate!), the MTR column was designed as a way to give our Emerging Research Grants (ERG) scientists a place to talk about their ERG project in more detail—and in lay terms for our readers—including its genesis, planned execution, and future goals.

Credit: Jane G. Photography

Credit: Jane G. Photography

“Meet the Researcher” also is an opportunity for us to glimpse the person behind the science, with the researchers sharing how they became interested in their field and whether they have any personal connection to hearing conditions. Perhaps not surprisingly, many researchers do become interested in hearing and balance science as a result of their own experience with hearing loss. For instance, 2010 ERG scientist Judith Kempfle, M.D., told us she received an artificial eardrum at age 13, after many ear infections that her brother also got when they were kids growing up in Germany. With her ERG funded by the Royal Arch Masons General Grand Chapter International, Kempfle has gone on to work on many papers with Hearing Restoration Project member Albert Edge, Ph.D. (including a recent one about the effort to deliver drugs directly to the inner ear).

Ed Bartlett, Ph.D., Purdue University

Ed Bartlett, Ph.D., Purdue University

Also a Royal Arch Masons grantee, 2011 ERG scientist Ed Bartlett, Ph.D., who published research on the lasting effects of blast shock waves on auditory processing, remembers asking his teacher whether we actually hear thoughts or if it something else. “So, I guess I was destined for auditory neuroscience,” says Bartlett, who also earned ERG funding in 2003, 2004, and 2009.

2011 and 2012 ERG scientist Regie Santos-Cortez, M.D., Ph.D., who earned the Collette Ramsey Baker Award named after HHF’s founder, spoke about the challenges of getting access to genetic information for her study that eventually pinpointed a gene mutation linked to a predisposition for ear infections. 2012 ERG scientist Bradley J. Walters, Ph.D., says he started out studying evolutionary biology, switched to studying regenerating damaged brain tissue, and then switched to hearing research. “I realized a lot of the ideas I had been working on in the brain could be applied to the ear,” he says. A 2017 paper he coauthored described successfully using gene therapy to regenerate hair cells in adult mice.

Alan Kan, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin, Madison

Alan Kan, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin, Madison

An early love of logic puzzles for 2013 ERG scientist Alan Kan, Ph.D., a Royal Arch Masons grantee, turned into studying audio engineering and his 2018 paper looking at how to improve speech understanding among people who use bilateral cochlear implants. Fellow 2013 Royal Arch Masons recipient Ross Maddox, Ph.D., remembers varying how he cupped his hands over his ears to get different sounds, leading to an interest in auditory processes and, eventually, research on how auditory and visual input is synthesized to understand sound.

After 26 years as a clinical audiologist, Royal Arch Masons 2014 ERG scientist Samira Anderson, Ph.D., switched to research. “Part of my motivation came from working with patients who struggled with their hearing aids,” she says. “I was frustrated that I was unable to predict who would benefit from hearing aids based on the results of audiological evaluations.” She produced three papers on the topic, bringing us closer to improving fit for and increasing the use of hearing aids.

Likewise, fellow Royal Arch Masons grantee Srikanta Mishra, Ph.D., produced two papers, one in 2017 and one in 2018, on children’s hearing that stemmed from his 2014 ERG grant—work that also led to a prestigious National Institutes on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders grant. And we liked the backstory for 2014 ERG scientist Brad Buran, Ph.D., so much that we put him on the cover of our magazine. Buran, who wears cochlear implants, multitasks during happy hour with his colleagues. “In an environment where it’s hard to hear,” he says, “within an hour they have all the information they need to use Cued Speech,” which uses visual representations of phonemes.

Beula Magimairaj, Ph.D., University of Central Arkansas

Beula Magimairaj, Ph.D., University of Central Arkansas

In 2015, we expanded our coverage of ERG recipients, so that every grantee is profiled in a “Meet the Researcher” column, all available online. Three papers resulted from the Royal Arch Masons grant received by 2015 ERG scientist Beula Magimairaj, Ph.D., and her research into children’s speech perception in noise and auditory processing (the third paper is in press). Funded by Hyperacusis Research Ltd., 2015 ERG scientist Kelly Radziwon, Ph.D., has managed to create a reliable animal model for loudness hyperacusis (essentially, inducing loudness intolerance in a rat and making sure it reacts to gradually increasing sound intensities) as well as finding a potential link between neuroinflammation and hyperacusis. 2015 and 2016 ERG scientist Wafaa Kaf, Ph.D.—who has 18 other family members (and counting!) who work in science—has been investigating Ménière’s disease, publishing on improving its diagnosis as it can be mistaken for other conditions, and the use of electrocochleography (ECochG) for diagnosing and monitoring the hearing and balance disorder.

Elizabeth McCullagh, Ph.D., University of Colorado

Elizabeth McCullagh, Ph.D., University of Colorado

A karaoke fan who admits he “cannot resist Celine Dion,” Royal Arch Masons 2016 ERG scientist Richard Felix II, Ph.D. published on the greater-than-expected role of lower-level brain regions on speech processing. Fellow Royal Arch Masons grantee, 2016 ERG scientist Elizabeth McCullagh, Ph.D., makes her own cheese and beer in between uncovering new clues to sound localization problems in the genetic condition known as Fragile X syndrome, which can lead to autism.

Rahul Mittal, Ph.D., University of Miami Miller School of Medicine

Rahul Mittal, Ph.D., University of Miami Miller School of Medicine

2016 ERG scientist Harrison Lin, Ph.D., funded by The Barbara Epstein Foundation Inc., credits his older brother, also an otolaryngologist, for developing in him a love for science. He coauthored a January 2018 JAMA Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery paper that detailed the gap between hearing loss diagnoses and treatments. 2016 ERG scientist Rahul Mital, Ph.D., who says he’d write fiction if not doing research, published an overview of hair cell regeneration, and Julia Campbell, Au.D., Ph.D., whose 2016 grant was funded by the Les Paul Foundation, understands firsthand what is feels like to have tinnitus, a topic she recently published a paper that investigated mild tinnitus in young patients with typical hearing. Hyperacusis Research-funded 2016 ERG scientist Xiying Guan, Ph.D., whose parents grew up doing manual labor in China, published a paper evaluating a treatment for conductive hyperacusis.

Some of our 2017 ERG scientists are already publishing. Royal Arch Masons grantee Inyong Choi, Ph.D., produced research on hybrid cochlear implants, which make use of residual hearing to produce more natural hearing. Oscar Diaz-Horta, Ph.D., whose 2017 ERG grant was funded by the Children’s Hearing Institute, investigated hair cell bundle structure and orientation. Very regretfully, Diaz-Horta died unexpectedly just as this paper was published.

Ian Swinburne, Ph.D., Harvard Medical School

Ian Swinburne, Ph.D., Harvard Medical School

Ian Swinburne, Ph.D., one of our Ménière’s Disease Grants scientists during its inaugural year in 2017, published a paper detailing one possible cause of Ménière’s disease. Swinburne and team discovered a structure in the inner ear’s endolymphatic sac acts a pressure-sensitive relief valve. Its failure may account for problems with inner ear fluid pressure and volume that may lead to hearing and balance disorders, including Ménière’s. “One activity I loved as a child was waterworks: building canals and aqueducts out of sand or dirt and then pouring water through them just to watch it flow,” he says. “Now I recognize an echo of that play in my study of water pressure and flow within the ear.”

We very much look forward to published research from all of our ERG scientists, including our latest crop of 2018 ERG scientists, whose ranks include a former college mascot, a violinist, a horse rider (of a horse named Gandalf), a Tibetan neuroscientist (and cookbook writer), a cricket player, a nonprofit cook who has prepared meals for 50,000 people, a dancer (including in flash mobs), and a builder of airplane scale models. Our ERG scientists deliver surprises of all sorts, from their backgrounds and how they got to where they are to the ground-breaking science they are spearheading in the lab.

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With Your Support for Hearing Research, We Can Do Great Work Together

By Sophia Boccard

Your support for Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) inspires me.

I’m thrilled we are moving toward better treatments and cures for hearing and balance conditions together.

I was diagnosed with a hearing loss at age 4 and with Usher syndrome (combined hearing loss and vision loss with balance difficulties) as an adult.

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I know what it is like to be frustrated by something that can make us feel powerless.

Since joining the Board of HHF and following the research programs — the Hearing Restoration Project (HRP), Emerging Research Grants (ERG) and Ménière's Disease Grants (MDG) — I’ve felt empowered.

The HRP has seen the partial regeneration of inner ear hair cells in adult mice and continue their work toward complete regeneration.

ERG and MDG scientists have made discoveries advancing knowledge of tinnitus, Ménière's disease, hyperacusis, Usher syndrome, and auditory processing disorders.

But more progress is needed. With your generosity, HHF can fund more research to accelerate the breakthroughs that will dramatically improve our lives.

Please, if you can, give to our life-changing work. HHF will direct 100% of your gift toward the program you choose. Thank you for your consideration and for being part of our mission.

Warm regards and happy holidays!

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Facing the Music

By Joe Mussomeli

Every family has holiday traditions—ours is to visit New York City. For the past five years, my mom, dad, and brother, Alex, have committed a single hour drive to experience the magic of the greatest city in the world during Christmas time. When we arrive each December, Alex and I are in awe of the magical sight of neon Christmas lights covering Radio City and the giant tree in Rockefeller Center. Despite our fascination with the city’s holiday decor, nothing we see outside compares to the highlight of our annual tradition, attending a musical performance on Broadway.

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Our first musical, Annie, was an incredible experience for our family, but it was difficult for Alex. Born with a hearing loss, Alex uses a hearing aid and cochlear implant. Though his devices have greatly helped him over the years, there are some situations where their benefits are limited. While watching  Annie, Alex had trouble understanding some of the lines that the actors were saying, missing every few words spoken. As a result, he couldn’t grasp the full context of the story or make sense of the audience’s reactions. Whenever the audience laughed, Alex would laugh along with them. He laughed knowing that he had missed a word, had lost a sentence, and didn’t catch the joke.

Alex followed this copycat formula for the next few Broadway plays we attended. When we saw The Lion King, he was amazed by the costumes and the bright lights, but he couldn’t hear Timon and Pumbaa singing “Hakuna Matata.” The beautiful music in Aladdin delighted Alex, but he didn’t pick up on Jafar calling Aladdin a “diamond in the rough.” After we saw Aladdin, I asked Alex if he enjoyed the musical. He told me that he did, but felt as if viewing the show was like trying to complete a project without all the tools. For Alex, the musical was a puzzle and he had lost a few pieces while assembling the final product.

Last December, my family and I watched our newest musical, Dear Evan Hansen, and it was Alex’s favorite so far. We arrived at the theater happy to know there was  a closed captioning option for guests with hearing loss. Weeks before, my parents had called the captioning company that provides services for Broadway musicals and reserved a closed captioning device for Alex. He was given a small tablet and was told that the actors’ lines would appear on the tablet as they were spoken. Minutes later, the musical began, and Alex was just as invested in the show as the rest of the audience. Now, he could understand everything that was happening on stage! It was an enlightening experience for him. He understood every sentence, took in every word, and laughed at every joke, and not for the sake of laughing along to fit in, but because he got the joke. When we finished the musical I turned to Alex and asked him if he liked it. He replied with three words: “I loved it.” Finally, Alex had completed his puzzle with ease.

Joe Mussomeli is a 10th-grade student who lives in Westport, CT. His younger brother, Alex, has been featured in Hearing Health magazine and is a participant in HHF’s “Faces of Hearing Loss” campaign.

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