Innovative Science Meets Innovative Technology

By Yishane Lee

This month our own Tara Guastella was interviewed for a piece on the blog for Exponent Partners. Exponent Partners is HHF’s technology partner who implemented our new online grants management system called Foundation Connect in mid- to late 2012. Foundation Connect has greatly increased HHF’s efficiency, transparency, and accountability, allowing us to match our innovative hearing research with innovative grants management.

In the interview, Tara speaks about HHF’s mission and research efforts, highlighting why hearing research affects everyone and how the new system has benefitted HHF:

HHF’s mission is to prevent and cure hearing loss and tinnitus through groundbreaking research. Our HRP researchers are specifically studying regrowth of the tiny sensory cells inside everyone’s ears, called hair cells, which allow us to hear. Every time we damage them with exposure to loud noise, or the cells are otherwise destroyed—such as by certain drugs or simply aging—we are at risk for hearing loss.

Normally, in humans, these cells do not grow back. However, researchers funded by HHF have found promising leads in the hair cells of chickens, which naturally regrow. The research suggests that regeneration of these cells could be induced in mammals. This would combat one of the most widespread forms of acquired hearing loss. It is estimated that 10 percent of Americans between the ages of 20 and 69 may have suffered hearing loss from noise exposure.

This type of loss is also highly associated with tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, found in 90 percent of tinnitus cases. Researchers are hopeful that once hearing is restored, tinnitus will similarly be alleviated. This would bring great benefit to the nearly 50 million Americans who experience hearing loss or tinnitus, including one in five teens and 60 percent of recently returning veterans.

HHF funds not only this research toward a cure but also many other hearing topic areas, including auditory processing disorders, genetic hearing loss, and the vestibular (balance) system, to name a few.

“Fifty years ago, restoring hearing to a person with hearing loss seemed like a dream,” Guastella said. “Since then, HHF has contributed to many of today’s current treatment options such as cochlear implants, new therapies for ear infections, and therapy for otosclerosis [an abnormal bone growth in the ear].”

Guastella noted, “When we first launched the HRP, one of our goals was to make the application and review process as easy and efficient as we could. We wanted our consortium scientists to dedicate as much time as possible to advancing the research in their labs rather than spending time applying for grants.”

The system has increased the capacity of the foundation. “We were able to process double the amount of letters of inquiry the year after we implemented the solution. We can quickly respond to inquiries about our past grantees as well,” Guastella said. “And everything is more user-friendly.” Now HHF’s internal grants administration matches the cutting-edge research they support.

Read the rest of the Exponent Partners blog post here.

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