Genetics

United by Hearing Loss in Rochester, NY

By Lauren McGrath

Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) proudly attended the 40th annual Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) convention last week in Rochester, NY. Rochester, fittingly, is the U.S. city with the highest per capita deaf population and a vibrant hub for hearing loss accessibility.

HHF CEO Timothy Higdon and Director of Marketing and Communications Lauren McGrath were present at the city’s Joseph A. Floreano Riverside Convention Center to speak with thousands of individuals about the significance of hearing loss research and education.

The conference began with a keynote speech from psychotherapist and author Rebecca Alexander, who lives with Usher syndrome and has partnered with HHF Board member Sophia Boccard to raise awareness of the condition. Alexander cited her cochlear implants as a vital tool hat “helped her reconnect with life.” She also reminded the audience of the importance of requesting assistance. “Why are we so averse to asking people for help?” she inquired, reminding her listeners that no one can read our minds when we face difficulties with hearing, vision, or balance.

CEO Timothy Higdon and Director of Marketing & Communications Lauren McGrath at HHF’s booth in the exhibit hall.

CEO Timothy Higdon and Director of Marketing & Communications Lauren McGrath at HHF’s booth in the exhibit hall.

Chief of the Laboratory of Molecular Genetics at the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, Thomas Friedman, Ph.D., who was funded by HHF’s Emerging Research Grants (ERG) program in 1994 and 1995, introduced the conference’s research symposium on genetics and hearing loss. There are 142 genes known to be associated with deafness, and animal models (mice, zebrafish, and fruit flies) are essential to providing such evidence. 

Zheng-Yi Chen, Ph.D. (Mass. Eye and Ear; 1994 ERG), Patricia White, Ph.D. (University of Rochester School of Medicine; 1999 and 2001 ERG), and Hela Azaiez, Ph.D. (University of Iowa), provided supplementary insights about genetic hearing loss and the possibilities for treatment. Further research updates about hereditary deafness will be available in the Summer 2019 issue of Hearing Health in late July. 

In the exhibit hall, HHF had the opportunity to speak to individuals with hearing loss interested to learn about new advances in research, including exactly how a chicken is connected to potential cures for hearing loss and tinnitus. At neighboring booths, HHF met with representatives from like-minded nonprofit organizations and hearing loss technology providers.

Beyond the exhibit hall, guests participated in workshops focused on self-efficacy, hearing devices, assistive technology, health insurance, and safe travel, among other topics.

The convention buzzed with curiosity, knowledge and compassion. As always, HHF is grateful to HLAA for uniting many of the nation’s most dedicated hearing loss advocates in a valuable three-day experience.

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