Congressional Caucus Supports Hearing Health Research The Congressional Hearing Health Caucus (CHHC) met on Capitol Hill in October to discuss recent advances in hearing science made possible by public funding, including developments in genetics, directional microphones, and cochlear implants. The bipartisan caucus highlighted advances that resulted from funding for basic and applied research from the Deafness ... Policy Analysis
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Policy Analysis  |   January 01, 2004
Congressional Caucus Supports Hearing Health Research
Author Notes
  • Susan Boswell, an assistant managing editor of The ASHA Leader, can be reached at sboswell@asha.org.
    Susan Boswell, an assistant managing editor of The ASHA Leader, can be reached at sboswell@asha.org.×
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Regulatory, Legislative & Advocacy / Policy Analysis
Policy Analysis   |   January 01, 2004
Congressional Caucus Supports Hearing Health Research
The ASHA Leader, January 2004, Vol. 9, 1-13. doi:10.1044/leader.PA1.09012004.1
The ASHA Leader, January 2004, Vol. 9, 1-13. doi:10.1044/leader.PA1.09012004.1
The Congressional Hearing Health Caucus (CHHC) met on Capitol Hill in October to discuss recent advances in hearing science made possible by public funding, including developments in genetics, directional microphones, and cochlear implants. The bipartisan caucus highlighted advances that resulted from funding for basic and applied research from the Deafness Research Foundation and the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD).
Formed in 2001, the CHHC provides an educational forum for discussion of issues related to hearing loss and now comprises 21 members of Congress committed to the support of hearing health issues, including founding co-chairs Reps. Lois Capps (D-CA), Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), Jim Ryun (R-KS), and Jim Walsh (R-NY).
Susan Greco, executive director of the Deafness Research Foundation’s National Campaign for Hearing Health, said that in 2001, 42 researchers, including audiologists, received more than $874,000 from the foundation. In 2002, NIDCD awarded 1,000 grants to researchers, said NIDCD director James Battey.
A Genetic Puzzle
Less than a decade ago, none of the genes for hearing loss had been identified. But by 2003, 54 genes for deafness had been mapped and identified, thanks to the Human Genome Project, said Thomas Friedman, chief of the Laboratory of Molecular Genetics at NIDCD.
One new area of research is the discovery of Connexin 26, which is linked to 30%–60% of all non-syndromic autosomal recessive deafness in Europe and the United States. This type of hearing loss occurs when a mutated copy of the gene GJB2 is inherited from each parent. This gene creates the Connexins, which are transmembrane proteins that form channels allowing rapid transport of ions between cells. This gene accounts for 80% of deafness in the Ashkenazi Jewish population, Freidman said. “It’s very important that you know the ethnic background of your patient.”
For children who are born with hearing loss that is not due to a GJB2 mutation, molecular screening is an important tool to identify the R245X founder mutation, which is a significant cause of Usher Syndrome type 1. This dual disorder causes profound hearing loss and progressive vision loss by the time the child reaches age 10 due to retinitis pigmentosis.
“A prelingually deaf child with Usher syndrome is likely to be initially diagnosed with deafness alone,” Friedman said.
A Fly’s Ears
Ronald Hoy, a professor in the division of biology at Cornell University, demonstrated how basic research holds promise for developing directional hearing aid microphones. “My work was not initially motivated by hearing aid technology,” Hoy said. Instead, he was curious about how flies hear.
While virtually all flies are deaf, the Ormia ochracea, a tiny parasitic fly, is able to hear. In order to reproduce, it must first locate a chirping male cricket, climb aboard, and deposit larvae. Hoy tested the fly’s hearing in the lab and found the O. ochracea’s ability to localize sound rivaled the species thought to have the best directional hearing—humans. When loudspeakers were placed at each end of a runway, the fly would go to whichever loudspeaker was playing the cricket song. This revealed the O. ochracea could detect a two-degree change in the position of the sound source.
The O. ochracea’s ear is the living prototype of a directional microphone, Hoy said. The eardrums are joined together anatomically by a lever that functions like a seesaw. When sound occurs, the eardrum flaps. And at only 1 millimeter in length, it’s small enough for a hearing aid. Using nanofabrication techniques, researchers are developing a fly-inspired silicon microphone.
“It’s very promising, but is still in its early days,” said Hoy, who estimated that it would be 5–10 years before the technology would be on the market. “You never know where curiosity-driven basic research will lead.”
Sound From Electricity
Support from the National Institutes of Health laid the groundwork for the development of cochlear implant technology, which now benefits 58,000 individuals worldwide.
“In the early years, most of the research community believed that it was not going to be possible to translate enough information through an implanted device,” said Richard Miyamoto, chair of the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at Indiana University School of Medicine.
Today, with the advent of early hearing detection and intervention, cochlear implants in infants are bridging the language gap. Children who are deaf and wear hearing aids develop language at one-half the rate of typical children, Miyamoto said. With a cochlear implant, the rate of language learning improves; some children with implants begin to catch up to the language levels of their peers who have normal hearing.
For more information about the Congressional Hearing Health Caucus, visit www.hearinghealth.net.
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January 2004
Volume 9, Issue 1