By Elizabeth Keithley, Ph.D.
Elizabeth Keithley, Ph.D., Chairman, HHF Board of Directors Professor Emeritus, Department of Surgery and Otolaryngology
University of California at San Diego
I have been a scientist who does research on mechanisms of inflammation and aging on the inner ear for more than 30 years. Growing up with a mother who had a hearing loss, I understood of the impact that hearing loss can have on a person’s life. It was quite natural that while in college I became interested in neuroscience and specifically the study of sensory perception. A professor asked me to work in his lab on hearing mechanisms and I have been studying them ever since.
In the 1990s I was asked to review the Emerging Research Grant (ERG) applications and that began my association with Hearing Health Foundation (HHF, and formerly known as Deafness Research Foundation). Soon afterward I was asked to join the Board of Directors. I have remained on the Board since that time.
The ERG program is a very valuable asset for the research community by enabling early-stage researchers to get their careers started. This program allows them to write a proposal describing a series of experiments to test a hypothesis that will increase our understanding of auditory or vestibular (hearing or balance) mechanisms. With data generated during the ERG funding period, the researcher can write an expanded, plausible proposal to address a larger issue. This becomes a proposal for funding from the National Institutes of Health.
In some ways the ERG program is a “dress rehearsal” for a career as an academic scientist. When these scientists receive funding from HHF, they have the opportunity to develop their own ideas. They begin to have some independence from a more senior investigator. The best path to achieving a world where everyone can hear is to continue bringing new people with their innovative ideas into the field of hearing and balance research. A review of the names of HHF-funded researchers over the past half century reveals the American leaders in the fields of hearing and balance research from the mid-1980s on.
As of October 1, 2015, I am the Chair of the HHF Board. I am very pleased to be involved with this important organization. HHF was created almost 60 years ago by a woman who was steadfast in her support of funding for new technologies and treatments for hearing loss. I will do whatever I can to ensure we are able to continue to make a meaningful impact through hearing research.
It is a goal to see HHF raise enough money to fund the Hearing Restoration Project. The consortium model is a wonderful way to focus the attention of scientists to work together collaboratively and get meaningful results. If we can get to the level of funding $5 million to $6 million for research annually, it will give the scientists the resources to further accelerate the pace of the research and produce advances to prevent, treat, and cure hearing loss. Another goal that is equally as important to me is to be able to return our funding levels for the ERG program to $1 million a year. This was the level of funding when I started 20 years ago and I don’t think it is unreasonable to recommit to that amount in the future.
Hearing and balance research and advancements in hearing devices and technology have come a long way over the past 50 years. Significant outcomes have been achieved, but we still have a lot of work to do. The number of people with hearing loss and other hearing-related conditions is increasing and we need to continue to fund the most cutting-edge research until there is a day when every person can enjoy life without a hearing loss or tinnitus.
I am interested in getting to know the members of our Hearing Health community. If you have questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me via email.
I look forward to hearing from you.