A Home for Hearing Research

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By Neyeah Watson

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) commemorated 30 years as an institute of the National Institutes of Health in October 2018. Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) is proud to both honor and share in this milestone for the NIDCD, which focuses on biomedical advancements in hearing, balance, taste, smell, voice, speech, and language.

The need for the NIDCD was first championed by Geraldine Dietz Fox, a Philadelphia preschool teacher who, at 27, had developed a sensorineural hearing loss in her left ear from the mumps virus. In her search for resources and treatments, she discovered HHF, at the time known as Deafness Research Foundation, and joined its Board of Directors.

An advocate for hearing loss research, Fox was an influential member of HHF’s board but recognized the need to look beyond its nonprofit resources and toward government funding. Already politically connected by way of her father and husband, who worked on the campaigns of Florida Representative Claude Pepper and U.S. President Ronald Reagan, respectively, Fox headed to Washington, D.C., on behalf of HHF.

She befriended Robert Ruben, M.D., a chairperson for the National Committee for Research in Neurological and Communicative Disorders, a coalition of health agencies and scientists that worked to increase funding for the National Institute for Neurological and Communicative Disorders and Stroke, as it was then known. A four-time Emerging Research Grants (ERG) recipient and otolaryngologist, Ruben had been urging Congress for support of more communication sciences research.

Fox’s new friendship with Ruben and other scientists, combined with her impressive zeal and demeanor as a private citizen with hearing loss, helped her gain an appointment to the advisory committee of the National Institute for Neurological and Communicative Disorders and Stroke in 1986. But Fox was disappointed in the amount of hearing research supported by the institute, and she collaborated with Ruben and Peter Reinecke, a congressional staffer, to move toward crafting a bill for the creation of the NIDCD.

Reinecke worked closely with Pepper, who had a hearing loss of his own, and who teamed up with Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, whose brother had hearing loss. The legislation received bipartisan support and was signed into law by President Reagan in 1988, forming the NIDCD.

HHF’s lasting relationship with the NIDCD has been vital to new discoveries in hearing science. For example, HHF’s ERG program provides seed funding to talented researchers, most of whom go on to expand their research after successfully competing for larger NIDCD research grants. “HHF plays a seminal role in launching the independent research careers of many  scientists in hearing research,” said former NIDCD director James F. Battey, Jr., M.D., Ph.D.

With gratitude to Fox, Ruben, and Reinecke for giving a home to hearing research, HHF is proud to have been associated with the NIDCD’s creation and celebrates the shared commitment to find better cures and treatments for hearing loss and related conditions.

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