Hearing Research

Give Your Way on #GivingTuesday

By Lauren McGrath

Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) kindly requests your help this #GivingTuesday, an annual international day of giving back.

While making a direct contribution is an option, it isn’t the only way that you can support our shared mission to enhance the lives of millions through better treatments and permanent cures for hearing loss and tinnitus.


2017 was monumental for HHF in that your support enabled HHF to fund more critical hearing research than ever before. Still, more work must—and can—be done. Our Hearing Restoration Project’s Scientific Director, Peter Barr-Gillespie, Ph.D., is optimistic about the progress you’ve already empowered. “The clues are becoming more clear, and we expect the next year will yield a bounty of exciting results,” he shares.

As people around the world unite today in celebration of giving to causes that matter to them, we hope that you are inspired to act on behalf of HHF. Take your pick from the options below to give your way on #GivingTuesday:

Make a Direct Contribution

HHF accepts donations through our website’s secure donation portal and by mail to 363 Seventh Ave, 10th Floor, New York, NY 10001. We pledge to use your gift wisely. Our responsible and effective donor stewardship practices have been commended by Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance, Consumer Reports, Charity Navigator, CharityWatch, and GuideStar. All donors are recognized and acknowledged in our Annual Report.

If you are able to give today, Tuesday, November 28, consider making your donation through our Facebook page, where your donation will be generously matched by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Start a Community Fundraiser

You needn’t support Hearing Health Foundation's critical hearing loss research and awareness programs on your own. Reach out to your community—your friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, or classmates—to give on your behalf as an HHF Community Fundraiser on Facebook or Classy. Please take advantage of our simple toolkits to ensure your fundraiser is a successful one.

Go Shopping

Perhaps the simplest way of all to give is to put your personal shopping to work for HHF—at no additional cost to you! If you are scoping out savings opportunities on Amazon, be sure to make your purchase through AmazonSmile and designate HHF as your charity of choice. If you are shopping on one of many other popular retailers’ sites like CVS, Nike, Etsy, Groupon, Macy’s, or Modell’s, you may allocate a percentage of your purchase to HHF through iGive.

Please email us at info@hhf.org if you are experiencing difficulty or have questions about our ways to give. Thank you for considering HHF on #GivingTuesday.

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Urgent Call to Action: Proposed Cuts to Hearing Research

By Nadine Dehgan, Elizabeth Keithley, Ph.D., and Peter Barr-Gillespie, Ph.D.

Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) is deeply concerned to learn the Trump administration has proposed an 18% cut to the budget for the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Such a cut would be devastating for all medical research - including hearing research. As an advocate for the millions of Americans who have hearing loss we are especially troubled.

A drastic decrease to the funding of hearing research would disrupt the efforts of the many hearing researchers who dedicate their lives to finding cures and treatments for hearing loss, tinnitus and balance disorders.

HHF and the NIH are partners in funding research. HHF’s two research programs—the Emerging Research Grants and the Hearing Restoration Project—both rely on NIH support. HHF's funding alone cannot support these labs.

Private funding of hearing research is dwarfed by NIH support, and these proposed cuts could harm the research program of each and every hearing research lab, including those supported by the HHF.

As people with hearing loss, parents of those with hearing loss, children of those with hearing loss and as the leadership of the Hearing Health Foundation we ask your support. Financial support is always needed and welcome - but in this case we are specifically asking for you to contact your representatives to let them know that you oppose cuts to the NIH (and in fact support increases to the NIH’s budget).

If you are passionate about funding the research that will lead to cures for hearing loss and balance disorders, now is the time to act.

Please join us in contacting your Senators and House Representative's offices today.

With our sincere thanks,
Nadine Dehgan | CEO of HHF
Elizabeth Keithley | Chair of the Board
Peter Barr-Gillespie | HRP Scientific Director

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Second Cause of Hidden Hearing Loss Identified

By Michigan Medicine - University of Michigan

Some people can pass a hearing test but have trouble understanding speech in a noisy environment. New research identifies a new mechanism for this condition just years after its discovery. Credit: Michigan Medicine

Some people can pass a hearing test but have trouble understanding speech in a noisy environment. New research identifies a new mechanism for this condition just years after its discovery. Credit: Michigan Medicine

Patients who complain they can't hear their friends at a noisy restaurant, but pass a hearing test in their doctor's office, may be describing hidden hearing loss.

Now, less than six years since its initial description, scientists have made great strides in understanding what hidden hearing loss is and what causes it. In research published in Nature Communications, University of Michigan researchers report a new unexpected cause for this auditory neuropathy, a step toward the eventual work to identify treatments.

"If people can have hidden hearing loss for different reasons, having the ability to make the right diagnosis of the pathogenesis will be critical," says author Gabriel Corfas, Ph.D., director of the Kresge Hearing Research Institute at Michigan Medicine's Department of Otolaryngology -- Head and Neck Surgery.

Corfas published the research with co-author Guoqiang Wan, now with Nanjing University in China. They discovered using mice that disruption in the Schwann cells that make myelin, which insulates the neuronal axons in the ear, leads to hidden hearing loss. This means hidden hearing loss could be behind auditory deficits seen in acute demyelinating disorders such as Guillain-Barré syndrome, which can be caused by Zika virus.

Corfas and Wan used genetic tools to induce loss of myelin in the auditory nerve of mice, modeling Guillain-Barré. Although the myelin regenerated in a few weeks, the mice developed a permanent hidden hearing loss. Even after the myelin regenerated, damage to a nerve structure called the heminode remained.

Synapse loss versus myelin disruption

When the ear is exposed to loud noises over time, synapses connecting hair cells with the neurons in the inner ear are lost. This loss of synapses has previously been shown as a mechanism leading to hidden hearing loss.

In an audiologist's quiet testing room, only a few synapses are needed to pick up sounds. But in a noisy environment, the ear must activate specific synapses. If they aren't all there, it's difficult for people to make sense of the noise or words around them. That is hidden hearing loss, Corfas says.

"Exposure to noise is increasing in our society, and children are exposing themselves to high levels of noise very early in life," Corfas says. "It's clear that being exposed to high levels of sound might contribute to increases in hidden hearing loss."

The newly identified cause -- deficiency in Schwann cells -- could occur in individuals who have already had noise exposure-driven hidden hearing loss as well. "Both forms of hidden hearing loss, noise exposure and loss of myelin, can occur in the same individual for an additive effect," Corfas says.

Previously, Corfas' group succeeded in regenerating synapses in mice with hidden hearing loss, providing a path to explore for potential treatment.

While continuing this work, Corfas started to investigate other cells in the ear, which led to uncovering the new mechanism.

There are no current treatments for hidden hearing loss. But as understanding of the condition improves, the goal is for the research to lead to the development of drugs to treat it.

"Our findings should influence the way hidden hearing loss is diagnosed and drive the future of clinical trials searching for a treatment," Corfas says. "The first step is to know whether a person's hidden hearing loss is due to synapse loss or myelin/heminode damage."

Materials provided by Michigan Medicine - University of Michigan. Co-author Guoqiang Wan, Ph.D., was a 2014 Emerging Research Grants recipient funded by the Wes Bradley, M.D. Memorial Grant.

We need your help in funding the exciting work of hearing and balance scientists.

To donate today to support HHF's groundbreaking research, please visit hhf.org/donate.

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Celebrating Hearing Innovations

By Frankie Huang

On Feb. 25, Hearing Health Foundation is celebrating International Cochlear Implant Day to raise awareness of this life-changing technology. Cochlear implants greatly enhance the lives of individuals with severe to profound hearing loss and individuals who don’t benefit from the use of hearing aids. Did you know that as of November 2012, there are 324,000 cochlear implants in use worldwide, and that number is growing daily!

Cochlear implants (CI) are electronic medical devices that are implanted via a surgical procedure. Although implants replace the function of the damaged inner ear, it is important to remember that CIs do not restore normal hearing but work by bypassing damaged structures in the inner ear and stimulating the auditory nerve. This sends signals to the brain, allowing the user to perceive sounds.

Researchers found that children 5 years or older with bilateral severe or profound hearing loss who are implanted with CIs have better speech perception and development over time than children treated with hearing aids. In addition, children with profound hearing loss who used CIs showed greater development of preverbal behavior than those using hearing aids.

Other researchers found that children receiving CIs before 24 months of age greatly benefit in terms of their overall language development. Levels of spoken language in children implanted before age 24 months were on par with their typical hearing peers by age 4.5, but those implanted after age 24 months did not “catch up” with hearing peers by age 4.5. It’s important to note the study didn’t evaluate language development or ongoing delays after age 4.5.

HHF is proud to have supported research in the 1970s that led to the development of cochlear implants. Since then the technology has continued to evolve and improve in order to increase the benefits yielded from having a cochlear implant and to reduce risks associated with an invasive surgical procedure. By further improving the design and the function of CIs, researchers may find a way to maximize all the possible benefits for the patient, to preserve residual hearing, and to improve the health of the inner ear.

If you’re interested in funding research related to hearing loss technology,
please consider donating today at hhf.org/donate or contact us at development@hhf.org.

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Emerging Research Grants: 2017 Application Period is Now Open

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HHF Supporter Alex Mussomeli Selected as Finalist in 2016 Oticon Focus on People Awards

By Oticon

Alex Mussomeli  of Westport is among the outstanding individuals with hearing loss selected as a finalist in 2016 Oticon Focus on People Awards, a national competition that celebrates individuals who are helping to eliminate negative stereotypes of what it means to have a hearing loss.  The soon-to-be sixth grader is one of three outstanding young people selected as a finalist in the Student category.  Beginning June 20, people can cast their vote for Alex at www.oticon.com.  Total number of votes will help determine whether Alex is the first, second or third place winner in the national awards competition. 

This is the 18th year that the Oticon Focus on People Awards has honored hearing impaired students, adults and advocacy volunteers who have demonstrated through their accomplishments that hearing loss does not limit a person’s ability to make a positive difference in the world.



Alex, diagnosed with hearing loss as an infant, appreciates the advances in hearing research and technology that have made his life easier and happier. The gifted musician and artist is determined to use his talents so other children with hearing loss can experience the benefits he has enjoyed. He found his inspiration in a legally blind artist who raised $1 million for charities benefiting children through the sale of his paintings.  This April, Alex held his first solo art show to benefit the non-profit Hearing Health Foundation’s Hearing Restoration Project. The young artist worked diligently for a year on the colorful acrylic paintings, prints and notecards that raised a whopping $16,000 for the Foundation.

Website visitors are encouraged to read all of the stories from this year’s 12 finalists in four categories: Student, Adult, Advocacy and Practitioner. 

Voting closes on August 15. Winners will be announced in September.

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Brain and Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month

By Morgan Leppla

Bodies are complex systems, composed of many minute details. The human anatomy serves to remind us of the intricacies of our world. This June for Brain and Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) invites you to join us in celebrating one of the most mysterious and fascinating part of the body: the brain.

For one to grasp the physiological complexity of being  human, one ought to understand how their body’s many systems work in tandem. For example, each person’s brain depends on stimulation to keep it in tip-top shape and and their bodies depend on their brains to function as they are intended to.

This is clearly a stripped down explanation of the role brains play. Of course an organism’s structure can be broken down into smaller and smaller parts, so let’s focus on one of special importance to us here at HHF, hearing.

Frank Lin, M.D., Ph.D., from Johns Hopkins University reports in 2014 that hearing loss affects brain structure, and specifically accelerates brain tissue loss. The study was conducted over a 10-year period with a sampling of people which included those with substantial hearing loss and those with normal hearing.  After analyzing years of magnetic resonance imaging scans, his conclusions suggest people with substantial hearing loss show higher rates of brain atrophy. Lin explains brain shrinkage could be the result of an “‘impoverished’ auditory cortex” since there is reduced brain stimulation in that area.

"If you want to address hearing loss well," Lin says, "you want to do it sooner rather than later. If hearing loss is potentially contributing to these differences we're seeing on an MRI, you want to treat it before these brain structural changes take place."

The human brain contains some of the most challenging biological mysteries in science (and always has). Unlocking those takes perseverance, so HHF thanks brain and hearing researchers for the time and energy devoted to rigorous research and ultimately revealing information critical to improving brain health.

Parts really do affect the health of the whole. So for the brain and beyond, please make an appointment with your hearing healthcare professional for your annual checkup and, if you are diagnosed with a hearing loss, managing it. More than just your hearing will benefit! Untreated hearing loss has been linked to dementia, depression, diabetes, falls, and heart disease.

Want to learn more about brain health? Check out last year’s blog here: Your Brain Is a Muscle: Use It or Lose It

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Selective Attention or Selective Hearing?

By Ross K Maddox, Huriye Atilgan, Jennifer K Bizley, Adrian KC Lee

In the noisy din of a cocktail party, there are many sources of sound that compete for our attention. Even so, we can easily block out the noise and focus on a conversation, especially when we are talking to someone in front of us.


This is possible in part because our sensory system combines inputs from our senses. Scientists have proposed that our perception is stronger when we can hear and see something at the same time, as opposed to just being able to hear it. For example, if we tried to talk to someone on a phone during a cocktail party, the background noise would probably drown out the conversation. However, when we can see the person we are talking to, it is easier to hold a conversation.

Maddox et al. have now explored this phenomenon in experiments that involved human subjects listening to an audio stream that was masked by background sound. While listening, the subjects also watched completely irrelevant videos that moved in sync with either the audio stream or with the background sound. The subjects then had to perform a task that involved pushing a button when they heard random changes (such as subtle changes in tone or pitch) in the audio stream.

The experiment showed that the subjects performed well when they saw a video that was in sync with the audio stream. However, their performance dropped when the video was in sync with the background sound. This suggests that when we hold a conversation during a noisy cocktail party, seeing the other person's face move as they talk creates a combined audio–visual impression of that person, helping us separate what they are saying from all the noise in the background. However, if we turn to look at other guests, we become distracted and the conversation may become lost.

This post originally appeared on eLife Science on Feb 5, 2015 in reference to the scienctific publication, "Auditory selective attention is enhanced by a task-irrelevant temporally coherent visual stimulus in human listeners." HHF amended the title from the original publication, permitted through Creative Commons

We need your help in funding the exciting work of hearing and balance scientists. 

To donate today to Hearing Health Foundation and support groundbreaking research, visit hhf.org/name-a-grant.

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How Noise Affects the Palate

By Melissa Osgood, Cornell University

If you're planning to fly over the holiday, plan to drink some tomato juice. While examining how airplane noise affects the palate, Cornell University food scientists found sweetness suppressed and a tasty, tender tomato surprise: umami.

A Japanese scientific term, umami describes the sweet, savory taste of amino acids such as glutamate in foods like tomato juice, and according to the new study, in noisy situations -- like the 85 decibels aboard a jetliner -- umami-rich foods become your taste bud's best buds.

"Our study confirmed that in an environment of loud noise, our sense of taste is compromised. Interestingly, this was specific to sweet and umami tastes, with sweet taste inhibited and umami taste significantly enhanced," said Robin Dando, assistant professor of food science. "The multisensory properties of the environment where we consume our food can alter our perception of the foods we eat."

With Dando, Kimberly Yan, co-authored the study, "A Crossmodal Role for Audition in Taste Perception," published online in March in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance. The research will appear in a forthcoming print edition of the journal.

The study may guide reconfiguration of airline food menus to make airline food taste better. Auditory conditions in air travel actually may enhance umami, the researchers found. In contrast, exposure to the loud noise condition dulled sweet taste ratings.

Airlines acknowledge the phenomenon. German airline Lufthansa had noticed that passengers were consuming as much tomato juice as beer. The airline commissioned a private study released last fall that showed cabin pressure enhanced tomato juice taste.

Taste perception depends not only on the integration of several sensory inputs associated with the food or drink itself, but also on the sensory attributes of the environment in which the food is consumed, the scientists say.

"The multisensory nature of what we consider 'flavor' is undoubtedly underpinned by complex central and peripheral interactions," said Dando. "Our results characterize a novel sensory interaction, with intriguing implications for the effect of the environment in which we consume food."

The above post is reprinted from materials provided by Cornell University.

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By Kate Yandell

Dominic Pisano hadn’t even arrived on campus to start his freshman year at Johns Hopkins University when he got his first email from biomedical engineer Tilak Ratnanather. He had heard Pisano was deaf and wanted to meet with him. Ratnanather, who has been deaf since birth, showed up for the meeting accompanied by a second deaf student who would later become a doctor. “He was, like: ‘Here’s my deaf army,’” Pisano recalls.

Soon, Pisano, a soccer enthusiast from Ohio, was interpreting magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in Ratnanather’s department. When Pisano decided he wanted to go to medical school, Ratnanather was ready to introduce him to his wide network of friends in the otolaryngology department at Hopkins. Pisano assisted in MRI research at Hopkins for a year before attending Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston.

“I’ll be honest with you, if it weren’t for Tilak I probably wouldn’t have gone to medical school,” says Pisano, now a resident in anesthesiology at Tufts Medical Center. “I probably wouldn’t have done biomedical engineering research. Most importantly, I probably wouldn’t have the kind of network I have.”

Photo: Tilak Ratnanather    Courtesy Johns Hopkins School of Medicine

Photo: Tilak Ratnanather

Courtesy Johns Hopkins School of Medicine

It was this kind of service that won Ratnanather the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring this past March. Over the years, Ratnanather has lobbied for better resources for deaf attendees at conferences, organized annual dinners for deaf researchers, helped award scholarships to hearing-impaired students through the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (AG Bell), and mentored more than a dozen hearing-impaired students.

“He’s by nature the most gregarious and extroverted individual,” says Howard Francis, a professor of otolaryngology at Hopkins who has known Ratnanather for 23 years. “He has a sense of mission and is committed to making it possible for others to achieve what he has achieved.”

“A lot of people have a hard time understanding him [due to his deafness-related difficulties with speech],” says Pisano, “but despite that, they still enjoy his company, and they want to be connected with him.”

Ratnanather was born in 1963 in Sri Lanka with profound hearing loss of unknown origin. His family moved to London when he was 18 months old, and he grew up wearing hearing aids and attending the Mary Hare School for Deaf Children.

Ratnanather’s parents, a pediatrician and a computer systems programmer, had high hopes for their son. “My father and I would talk about mathematics and would go through some problems at home,” he says. “I had an aptitude, and then, of course, I would go to the science museum and learn about famous mathematicians.” Ratnanather enrolled at University College London, where he met mathematician Keith Stewartson, who immediately made the young undergrad comfortable about his hearing loss and the assistive technologies he needed to use in the classroom. “I knew he would make my life easy,” says Ratnanather. “I didn’t have to worry about my deafness.”

Tragically, Stewartson died suddenly at the end of Ratnanather’s first year at university. But the young student forged ahead, and after doing some reading about Stewartson’s research on fluid dynamics, Ratnanather went on to study the subject in graduate school at the University of Oxford, receiving his D.Phil. in mathematics in 1989.

Up until that point, Ratnanather had only had occasional opportunities to learn about an area near to his heart: hearing research. This changed after he attended a research symposium at the 1990 AG Bell Convention in Washington, D.C. Fascinated by the work of William Brownell, Ratnanather approached the Johns Hopkins researcher after Brownell had given a talk about outer hair cell electromotility—the process by which these sensory cells shorten or lengthen in response to electrical impulses.

When outer hair cells change shape, they transmit mechanical force to the cochlea, amplifying the ear’s sensitivity to soft sounds at specific frequencies. Forces transmitted through pressurized fluids in outer hair cells make electromotility possible, explains Brownell, who is now at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. He needed someone who could model the dynamics of fluid within these tiny spaces. “Tilak had the computational tools to begin to study this,” Brownell says.

Ratnanather began a postdoc in Brownell’s lab in 1991. During his postdoc, he realized he could bestow upon students the confidence his mentors fostered in him. The Internet helped him reach out to other deaf people through newsgroups. Lina Reiss, who had severe hearing loss by age 2, first met Ratnanather when she was an undergraduate at Princeton University and he replied to an online post in which she introduced herself to one of these newsgroups.

The daughter of two Ph.D.s, Reiss had always known that she wanted to go into the sciences. But she was not sure what career would be possible with her hearing loss. “I didn’t have any role models of what it was like to be a deaf faculty member,” she recalls. “Until I met [Tilak and some of his deaf friends], I couldn’t imagine becoming a professor.”

Ratnanather helped get Reiss a summer internship in the hearing-research lab of a colleague at Johns Hopkins, where she studied how neurons in the brain stem encode and process sound. Enthralled with the research, she went on to do her Ph.D. in biomedical engineering in the same lab. She is now an assistant professor at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland researching how hearing loss, hearing aids, and cochlear implants influence the way people perceive sound.

Ratnanather now primarily does brain-mapping research focused on understanding how brain structures are altered in people with diseases such as schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, and bipolar disorder. But hearing science continues to influence his work. He has published several recent studies on fluid dynamics and hair cell function and has upcoming papers on imaging the auditory regions of the brain in deaf adults and babies.

And, spurred partly by his own cochlear implant surgery in 2012, Ratnanather has created an app for adults learning how to hear following the surgery. Called Speech Banana, the app is named after the banana-shaped region in an audiogram that contains human speech.

More than just providing professional connections, Ratnanather has influenced how his former students navigate the world. Being deaf can make it scary to think outside the box or challenge opinions, Pisano says.  Ratnanather encourages his mentees to keep an open mind and engage with others—hearing and nonhearing alike. “That helped shape my mentality about life in general today,” Pisano says.

Reprinted with permission. "Handicapable" originally appeared in the October 2015 issue of The Scientist, a special issue devoted to hearing research. The article can be accessed online here. See also The Scientist’s Facebook page, where this article generated many comments.


Hearing Health Foundation is thrilled that Tilak Ratnanather, D.Phil., received this outstanding honor and recognition from the White House for his mentoring efforts. Ratnanather was a recipient of an Emerging Research Grant (ERG) in 1993, and has continued to champion HHF and its mission to prevent and cure hearing loss and tinnitus.

Dominic Pisano, M.D., who is quoted in this article, served on HHF’s inaugural National Junior Board (now known as HHF’s New York Council) in 2012. He has written about his decision to get a cochlear implant (CI) on our website and the tips and tricks he used to succeed in medical school in our magazine, and he appeared in an HHF public service announcement.

Also quoted in the article, Lina Reiss, Ph.D., was an ERG recipient in 2012 and 2013, and went on to win funding from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication and Disorders. She cowrote a piece about hybrid CIs and the way they make use of residual hearing ability. HHF congratulates all for their achievements!

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