By Timothy Higdon
In my role as CEO of Hearing Health Foundation (HHF), most of my time is spent liaising with the individuals who make our groundbreaking work possible—scientists, volunteers, Board members, and donors—from our New York City office. I was fortunate to recently step away from my typical routine to witness the excitement of hearing and balance science at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on Wednesday, August 21.
This educational visit was organized by the Friends of the Congressional Hearing Health Congressional (FCHHC), the coalition co-founded by HHF that supports the policy interests of the Congressional Hearing Health Caucus (CHHC), a bipartisan group to committed to increasing hearing health care.
We learned about the latest federally-funded advancements in hearing and balance disorders in a tour of the labs at NIH’s National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) Intramural Research Program at the Clinical Center in Bethesda, MD. The nation’s largest hospital devoted to clinical research, the center is one location where the NIDCD supports and conducts research on the normal and disordered processes of hearing, balance, taste, smell, voice, speech, and language with an annual budget of $474 million.
NIDCD Scientific Director Andrew J. Griffith, M.D., Ph.D., and clinician-scientists Carmen Brewer, Ph.D., and Clint Allen, M.D., hosted a presentation and tour. Griffith noted the importance of animal models in his overview of the hearing and balance functions, a nod to our Hearing Restoration Project’s work with birds, fish, and mice to identify biological cures for hearing loss in humans.
I was very impressed by the state-of-the-art facilities, especially the vestibular testing booth that is used to evaluate hearing and balance patients. Eye movement is observed while the chair or walls of the booth spin rapidly, helping doctors to understand how conditions like vertigo or Ménière's disease are affecting the patient.
The support that is given to patients in clinical trials also inspired me immensely. Clinical trials recruitment can be challenging, but the NIH has a national reach with a database registry for interested patients. The NIH helps with relocation expenses for the patient to minimize disruption while necessary care is provided.
I am tremendously excited by the strong relationship HHF maintains with the NIDCD. The NIDCD’s newly appointed Director, Debara Tucci, M.D., is an alumnus of our Emerging Research Grants (ERG) program and Council of Scientific Trustees. Many of our ERG recipients subsequently qualify for funding from the NIDCD and other constituent institutes of the NIH at the rate of $91 for every $1 invested by HHF. My visit to the NIH was a meaningful reminder of the impact our scientists make at the federal level, while demonstrating that much more work must be done to better the millions who live with hearing and balance conditions.
How wonderful it was to spend the day with so many individuals committed to hearing health. I look forward to continuing our relationships with the NIDCD and the FCHHC to advance our vision of a world in which people can live without hearing loss.