The NIH Almanac
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders
The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) conducts and supports research and research training on disorders of hearing and other communication processes, including diseases affecting hearing, balance, taste, smell, voice, speech, and language through:
- Research performed in its own laboratories and clinics
- A program of research grants, cooperative agreements, individual and institutional research training awards, career development awards, center grants, conference grants, and contracts to public and private research institutions and organizations
- Cooperation and collaboration with professional, academic, commercial, voluntary, and philanthropic organizations concerned with research and training that is related to deafness and other communication disorders, disease prevention and health promotion, and the special biomedical and behavioral problems associated with people having communication impairments or disorders
- The support of efforts to create devices that substitute for lost and impaired sensory and communication functions
- Ongoing collection and dissemination of information to health professionals, patients, industry, and the public on research findings in these areas.
Important Events in NIDCD History
October 28, 1988—Public Law 100-553 authorized the formation of the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.
April 1989—The NIDCD published and released its first National Strategic Research Plan (NSRP). The NSRP was developed by one hundred distinguished scientists and clinicians charged with writing both a three year and a long-range research plan for deafness and other communication disorders.
June 26, 1989—The NIDCD Advisory Board held its first meeting.
September 18, 1989—The Advisory Council of NIDCD convened for the first time.
February 11, 1990—James B. Snow, Jr., M.D., was appointed as the first Director of NIDCD.
September 21, 1990—The NIDCD established the Office of Administrative Branch, Financial Management Branch, Personnel Management Branch, and Program and Health Reports Branch.
December 5, 1990—The Division of Intramural Research established labs and branches within the division.
December 6, 1990—The Information Systems Branch was created.
April 4, 1991—The Board of Scientific Counselors of NIDCD held its first meeting.
November 19, 1991—The Deafness and Other Communication Disorders Interagency Coordinating Committee met for the first time.
December 29, 1991—David J. Lim, M.D., was appointed as Scientific Director.
May 8, 1992—NIDCD/American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery sponsored a live interactive satellite conference, "Warning! The Impact of Pollution on the Upper Alimentary and Respiratory Tracts," to inform scientists, physicians, and the public about health problems associated with pollution and identify areas of needed research.
August 21, 1992—NIDCD/Department of Veterans Affairs directors signed a Memorandum of Understanding that established a collaboration to expand and intensify hearing aid research and development.
October 23, 1992—NIDCD/National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) established a formal scientific collaboration to enhance basic knowledge and understanding of vestibular function in both clinical and normal states and provide investigators access to NASA's unique ground-based research facilities and to space flight.
March 1-3, 1993—Consensus Development Conference, "Early Identification of Hearing Impairment in Infants and Young Children," evaluated current research and provided recommendations regarding hearing assessment from birth through 5 years of age.
October 25, 1993—NIDCD commemorated its fifth anniversary, "A Celebration of Research in Human Communication."
January 18, 1994—The Division of Communication Sciences and Disorders established the Hearing and Balance/Vestibular Sciences Branch and the Voice, Speech, Language, Smell, and Taste Branch.
May 1994—The NIDCD Advisory Board held its final meeting.
August 5, 1994—The Division of Communication Sciences and Disorders was changed to the Division of Human Communication.
February 14, 1995—"The Partnership Program" began, designed to maximize opportunities for underrepresented students to participate in fundamental and clinical research in the NIDCD research areas, with 4 academic centers: Morehouse School of Medicine; University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine; University of Alaska System, Fairbanks; and Gallaudet University.
March 1, 1995—James F. Battey, Jr., M.D., Ph.D., was appointed as Director of the Division of Intramural Research.
May 15-17, 1995—Consensus Development Conference, "Cochlear Implants in Adults and Children," summarized current knowledge about the range of benefits and limitations of cochlear implantation.
September 11-13, 1995—First biennial conference, "Advancing Human Communication: An Interdisciplinary Forum on Hearing Aid Research and Development," was held.
September 4-5, 1997—The NIDCD Working Group on Early Identification of Hearing Impairment held its first workshop and made recommendations on acceptable protocols for use in state-wide Universal Newborn Hearing Screening Programs.
September 13, 1997—James B. Snow, Jr., M.D., retired as the first Director of NIDCD. James F. Battey, Jr., M.D., Ph.D., became Acting Director of NIDCD.
September 22-24, 1997—The second biennial hearing aid research and development conference took place.
February 10, 1998—James F. Battey, Jr., M.D., Ph.D., was appointed as the new Director of NIDCD.
March 13, 1998—The NIDCD Working Group on Early Identification of Hearing Impairment's second workshop identified research opportunities offered by neonatal hearing screening programs, specifically in diagnostic strategies for characterizing hearing impairment and in the intervention strategies for remediating hearing impairment.
August 13-14, 1998—The Working Group on Single and Multiple Project Grants held its first meeting.
December 8, 1998—The NIDCD Working Group for Developing and Implementing Genetic Diagnostic Tests for Hereditary Hearing Impairment and Other Communication Disorders met and made recommendations for an organization of a consortium of investigators studying genes in communication disorders to permit the rapid pooling of information; support for laboratories, protocols, and carefully designed studies to address the issues of inclusion of individuals with hearing impairments and individuals who are deaf as well as related organizations representing the spectrum of involved communities of deaf or hearing-impaired people in the formulation and establishment of guidelines and future recommendations regarding genetic testing.
December 20, 1998—Robert J. Wenthold, Ph.D., was appointed as Scientific Director.
January - February 1999—The NIDCD convened a group of distinguished scientists and members of the public to provide recommendations for a Strategic Plan.
May 25, 1999—The NIDCD Working Group on Communicating Informed Consent to Individuals Who Are Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing met to clarify issues of informed consent, develop guidelines for use by scientists, and propose new, needed materials for improving communication about informed consent.
June 21-22, 1999—The NIDCD and the Life Sciences Division of NASA co-sponsored a planning workshop "Role of Transgenic and Knockout Studies in Understanding Sensory-Motor Performance in Altered Gravitational Environments." Participants explored the viability of studying the effects of altered gravitational exposure on sensory-motor function in genetically altered experimental model systems.
2000—NIDCD created the Hearing Health Objectives to improve the hearing health of the Nation through prevention, early detection, treatment, and rehabilitation that were tracked in the joint Vision and Hearing Chapter of Healthy People 2010 initiative.
September 19, 2000—The third workshop of the NIDCD Working Group on Early Identification of Hearing Impairment identified critical research needs in the area of early identification of hearing impairment. The workshop was designed to provide advice to the NIDCD for identifying research to be supported through the Federal government grant and contract processes.
November 29-30, 2000—NIDCD sponsored a workshop titled "Otitis Media: New Approaches for Analysis, Treatment, and Prevention" to report on the state of the art of otitis media research and to make recommendations regarding potential new approaches for analysis, intervention, and prevention of otitis media.
December 11, 2000—NIDCD signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Center for Comparative and Evolutionary Biology of Hearing, University of Maryland, College Park, to establish a program for training graduate students in the hearing sciences.
March 22-23, 2001—The Division of Intramural Research, NIDCD, held its first retreat at St. Michael's, Md.
May 24, 2001—Dr. Battey unveiled the Institute's new logo at the Advisory Council meeting.
July 23, 2001—"Communicating the Need for Follow-up to Improve Outcomes of Newborn Hearing Screenings: The third workshop of the NIDCD Working Group on Early Identification of Hearing Impairment" convened to examine and develop recommendations for health care professionals on communicating follow-up of infants who do not return for a re-examination after an initial assessment of hearing impairment has been made.
August 1, 2001—NIDCD Auditory/Stem Cell Workshop was held to discuss and identify potential areas of the auditory and vestibular systems that might be good candidates for applications being used in other reparative medicine systems, one being the potential use of stem cell biology.
March 19-20, 2002—NIDCD Workshop on Congenital Cytomegalovirus Infection (CMV) and Hearing Loss convened to present the current research in related fields of congenital CMV infection and hearing loss; to better determine the degree to which congenital CMV infection contributes to hearing loss in children; and to facilitate a discussion among experts in order to develop a set of recommendations for future research in the area of congenital CMV infection and hearing loss.
May 13, 2002—The NIDCD workshop, "The Role of Neuroimaging in the Study of Aphasia Recovery and Rehabilitation: Research Needs and Opportunities" was held to identify research opportunities for the application of neuroimaging methods to the study of aphasia recovery and rehabilitation; to identify and address particular methodological challenges of imaging research focusing on the issue of aphasia recovery and rehabilitation; and to develop strategies to encourage collaborative efforts among researchers with expertise in functional neuroimaging, language processing and aphasia rehabilitation.
August 22, 2002—Auditory/Vestibular Cell Lineage and Development Workshop met to discuss the present and future state of cell lineage and development research in the auditory and vestibular systems.
September 2002—Dr. Battey was appointed as Chair of the NIH Stem Cell Task Force by NIH Director Dr. Elias Zerhouni. In March 2007, Dr. Battey began serving as Vice Chair.
October 21, 2002—NIDCD hosted the first NIH lecture on health literacy, "Babel Babble: What Is the Doctor Saying? What Is the Patient Understanding?" for health communication professionals who develop health materials and communication strategies for a range of diverse audiences.
June 12, 2003—Dr. Battey opened the First NIH Symposium on Human Embryonic Stem Cells, Bethesda, Md.
September 12, 2003—NIDCD convened the "Human Temporal Bone Research Workshop: Laboratory and Training Support" to identify the funding issues and requirements involved in sustaining human temporal bone research laboratories and the training of qualified researchers in the United States; and to develop recommendations for action(s) NIDCD might take to address the identified issues and requirements.
December 2003—NIDCD's WISE EARS!® national campaign to prevent noise-induced hearing loss turned 5 years old. The campaign is a coordinated effort among NIDCD, the National Institute on Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and a coalition of organizations who care about hearing.
April 27-28, 2004—NIDCD sponsored the workshop "Translational Research (TR) in Hearing and Balance" to discuss translational research as related to hearing and balance, identify barriers to and opportunities in translational research, and articulate activities that could be initiated by the NIDCD in order to increase the translation of scientific accomplishments from the laboratory to the research clinic and beyond to impact clinical practice and public health.
April 30-May 2, 2004—NIDCD and the NIH Office of Rare Diseases co-sponsored a workshop on "Universal Reporting Parameters for the Speech of Individuals with Cleft Palate" to further develop and refine the common approach in describing and reporting clinical speech outcomes of individuals born with cleft palate, regardless of the language spoken by the individual.
June 3-4, 2004—NIDCD sponsored the workshop “Electrical Stimulation of the Vestibular Nerve” to identify opportunities for the development of a neural prosthesis to electrically stimulate the portion of the eighth nerve which carries signals from the vestibular endorgan. Participants identified clinical populations that would benefit from studies with a device similar to the cochlear implant, but modified to address balance disorders.
October 2004—NIDCD-funded investigator Dr. Linda Buck won the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
March 29-30, 2005—NIDCD sponsored a Workshop on Epidemiology of Communication Disorders to report on current epidemiologic knowledge in the field; suggest ways to encourage more epidemiologic research; describe the importance of population-based research studies for understanding the burden of communication disorders in society and recommend priority topics where more epidemiologic research would be valuable.
May 21-23, 2005—NIDCD held "State of the Science Conference: Developmental Stuttering" conference to enable the cross-disciplinary discussion that will help to focus NIDCD initiatives for stuttering research and treatment.
June 23-24, 2005—NIDCD co-sponsored the first Workshop on Spasmodic Dysphonia Research to develop a roadmap for SD research.
September 7, 2005—NIDCD held a workshop "Report of the Molecular Therapies for Auditory/Vestibular Disease" to discuss the current and future state of molecular therapy development in auditory and vestibular disease. The purpose of the workshop was to discuss and identify research opportunities that will advance/translate targeted molecular approaches into clinical treatments.
October 2005—NIDCD sponsored a Clinical Research Workshop to invigorate the clinical research in the NIDCD portfolio.
December 5-6, 2005—The NIDCD Tinnitus Research Workshop was held to bring together key people currently doing clinical and basic research in central mechanisms and treatments in tinnitus and others who are outside the field of tinnitus research, but who do work that might be relevant to the field.
May 26-27, 2006—NIDCD and the NIH Office of Rare Diseases sponsored a workshop to evaluate the potential for brain-computer interfaces (BCI) to provide a means for speech synthesis and control of other forms of assistive technology that support communication in patients who are locked-in.
October 19-20, 2006—NIDCD co-sponsored a workshop, titled "Noise-Induced Hearing Loss in Children at Work and Play," in Covington, Ky. The workshop convened researchers, hearing health professionals, teachers, and advocacy groups and focused on the prevention of noise-induced hearing loss.
December 12-13, 2006—NIDCD/NIH sponsored a workshop on "Outcomes Research in Children with Hearing Loss" to determine and prioritize research needs and discuss design considerations unique to outcomes research in children with hearing loss.
May 9-10, 2007—NIDCD sponsored a workshop "Clinical Research/Clinical Trials in Otology: Setting the Research Agenda for Development of an Intervention" to bring together leaders in otology and clinical trials to focus on what it would take to develop interventions in otology. The goal was to encourage cross and multidisciplinary science towards the development or establishment of evidence-based treatments for otologic conditions/disorders, and to determine, on the basis of available data regarding epidemiology and stage of science, a prioritization of otologic conditions for which intervention-oriented research may be ready.
May 6, 2008—Dr. Battey provided closing remarks at the NIH stem cell symposium, "Challenges & Promises of Cell-Based Therapies."
July 22-23, 2008—NIDCD Workshop on Immune Mediated Ear Disease/Hearing Loss met to obtain updates on the current status of immune mediated ear disease research; to identify research gaps; and to get expert recommendations regarding research needs that will aid our understanding of this complex form of hearing loss and ultimately lead to diagnostics and therapies that preserve natural hearing.
September 23, 2008—The NIDCD Workshop on Exploring International Collaborative Research in Deafness & Other Communication Disorders met to explore international collaborative research and to stress the need to educate researchers and reviewers about the opportunities for scientific discovery through international collaborative research.
October 2008—NIDCD launched a new health education campaign called It's a Noisy Planet. Protect Their Hearing. The Noisy Planet campaign is designed to increase awareness among parents of children ages 8 to 12 ("tweens") about the causes and prevention of NIHL. View Image.
October 23, 2008—NIDCD celebrated two decades of research accomplishments with a one day symposium. The symposium included three scientific sessions representing NIDCD's primary areas of research: hearing and balance; taste and smell; and voice, speech, and language. View Image.
August 13-14, 2009—NIDCD Workshop on Tinnitus met to evaluate central nervous system mechanisms of tinnitus in civilian, military and veteran populations and to stimulate to stimulate development of new neural prostheses and other treatments for chronic severe tinnitus.
April 1, 2009—Andrew Griffith, M.D., Ph.D., was appointed as the Director of the Division of Intramural Research.
August 25-27, 2009—NIDCD sponsored a working group on Accessible and Affordable Hearing Health Care for Adults with Mild to Moderate Hearing Loss to develop a research agenda to increase accessibility and affordability of hearing health care for adults, including accessible and low cost hearing aids.
2010—NIDCD expanded the Hearing Health Objectives of HP 2010 to include all mission areas of NIDCD. The new chapter in HP 2020 is now called "Hearing and Associated Sensory or Communication Disorders."
April 13-14, 2010—NIDCD sponsored a workshop on Nonverbal School-Aged Children with Autism to address clinical needs and research opportunities regarding this population.
May 10, 2010—NIDCD held its first Robert J. Wenthold Memorial Lecture, to be sponsored each year in honor of NIDCD’s longtime scientific director.
August 18, 2010—The NIDCD P30 Engineering Cores Workshop met at the NIH to compare how the different P30 Core Centers develop software and hardware improvements to their resources, and how to facilitate sharing such developments.
September 13, 2010—The NIDCD P30 Imaging Cores Workshop met at the NIH to consider technological developments in biological microscopy, data capture and analysis of digital images, and how the different Core Centers can adapt and share useful advances.
June 14, 2011—The NIDCD P30 Human Subjects Cores Workshop met at the NIH to discuss improving and sharing strategies and resources for recruitment, diversity, data management, and regulatory compliance across the Core Centers.
2011—NIDCD redesigned its Strategic Plan for Research, including switching from a 3-year plan to a 5-year plan, and holding workshops with experts in each mission area (Hearing and Balance, Taste and Smell, and Voice, Speech, and Language) to identify areas of emerging opportunity. The new Plan includes expanded efforts to translate research discoveries into clinical practice. NIDCD posted the revised 2012-2016 Strategic Plan on the NIDCD website in February 2012.
September 14, 2011—NIDCD sponsored a workshop on Regenerative Therapies to address future needs and research opportunities regarding restoration therapies for hearing and balance deficiencies.
November 7, 2011—NIDCD sponsored a workshop, "NIDCD Workshop for New Clinician-Investigators in Communication Disorders: Strategies for Success," for its cadre of Mentored Clinician-Scientist Career Development (K08/K23) awardees. The purpose of this forum was to orient NIDCD’s K08 and K23 awardees to the NIH grant submission and peer review process, and to guide them in competing successfully for their Early-Stage Investigator R01 award and in building their research programs.
April 2012—NIDCD co-sponsored a working group on Collaboration and Consolidation of Databases for Research in Hearing Health Care.
June 14, 2012—The NIDCD Workshop on Motion Perception and Balance Disorders met at the NIH to discuss mechanisms of human motion perception and misperceptions that lead to spatial discomfort and disorientation and disorders of balance, and how new approaches could improve clinical management of balance disorders.
August 29, 2012—NIDCD sponsored a workshop, "Moving the NIDCD Research Training Program Forward in Fiscally Constrained Times," to guide the future management of the Institute’s Individual and Institutional Ruth L. Kirschtein National Research Service Award enterprise.
NIDCD Legislative Chronology
October 28, 1988—Public Law 100-553 authorized the formation of the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.
February 15, 1989—Section 406 of the Public Health Service Act, Public Law 92-463, NDCD Advisory Council was established to advise the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS); the NIH Director; and the Director of NIDCD on matters relating to the conduct and support of research and research training, health information dissemination, and other programs with respect to disorders of hearing and other communication processes.
January 25, 1991—Section 402(b)(6) of the Public Health Service Act, Public Law 92-463, NIDCD Board of Scientific Counselors advises the Director, Division of Intramural Research, NIDCD, on the quality of the intramural research programs and the research of tenured and tenure-tracked scientists of the Division, through periodic reviews.
March 1, 1991—Public Law 100-553 Section 464(b), The NIDCD Information Clearinghouse was established to facilitate and enhance, through the effective dissemination of information, knowledge and understanding of disorders of hearing and other communication processes.
November 29, 1999—Public Law 106-113. As a part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2000, the Newborn Infant Hearing Screening and Intervention Act of 1999 was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. The legislation authorized three years of funding to the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the NIDCD to aid in the development of newborn infant hearing screening programs.
December 22, 2010—Public Law 111-337. The Early Hearing Detection and Intervention Act of 2010 was signed into law by President Barack Obama. The bill reauthorized Public Law 106-113 for Fiscal Years 2011-2015 and expands the program to include diagnostic services among the services provided to newborns and infants.
Biographical Sketch of NIDCD Director James F. Battey, Jr., M.D., Ph.D.
Dr. Battey became the new NIDCD director on February 10, 1998. He served as acting director since the retirement of the Institute's first director in September 1997. He is responsible for the planning, implementation, and evaluation of Institute programs to conduct and support biomedical and behavioral research, research training, and public health information in human communication.
He received his education at the California Institute of Technology, where he earned his B.S. with honors in physics. He earned his M.D. and Ph.D. in biophysics at Stanford University, where he had residency training in pediatrics. His postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard Medical School was under the direction of the eminent scientist Dr. Philip Leder. While working with Dr. Leder, Dr. Battey was part of a team that cloned the genes encoding the IgE immunoglobulin constant region domains. In addition, he isolated and characterized the human c-myc gene, a key growth regulatory nuclear proto-oncogene that contributes to cancer formation when inappropriately expressed.
Dr. Battey has been with NIH since 1983, first on the staff of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), where he rose from senior staff fellow to senior investigator. In his work at the NCI-Navy Medical Oncology Branch, he collaborated in the isolation and characterization of human N-myc and L-myc, two additional members of the human myc gene family, important in human neoplasms. He became interested in neuropeptides and their receptors at this time because of their dual function as growth factors and regulatory peptides. His group isolated cDNA and genomic clones for mammalian bombesin-like peptides, key regulators of secretion, growth and neuronal firing.
In 1988 he moved to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke as chief of the molecular neuroscience section in the Laboratory of Neurochemistry. In 1992 he returned to the NCI to head the molecular structure section of the Laboratory of Biological Chemistry, where his laboratory cloned and characterized the genes for 3 subtypes of mammalian receptors for bombesin-like peptides. His team at NCI's Laboratory of Biological Chemistry was among the first to clone the gene encoding cdk5, a member of the cyclin-dependent kinase family, where important proteins are involved in cell cycle control. Dr. Battey was appointed as director of the Intramural Research Program for NIDCD in 1995 by Dr. Snow, the first NIDCD director. The PHS has honored him with its PHS Commendation Medal in 1990 and the Outstanding Service Medal in 1994. He is author or co-author of over 130 research articles and is co-author with Leonard Davis and Michael Kuehl of Basic Methods in Molecular Biology.
|Name||In Office from||To|
|Jay Moskowitz (Acting)||October 31, 1988||February 10, 1990|
|James B. Snow, Jr.||February 11,1990||September 15, 1997|
|James F. Battey, Jr.||September 14, 1997||Present|
NIDCD supports and conducts research and research training in the normal and disordered processes of hearing, balance, smell, taste, voice, speech, and language through a program of grants and contracts in basic, clinical, and translational research. They are conducted in public and private institutions across the country and around the world and within the laboratories and clinics at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.
The Division of Intramural Research conducts basic and clinical research in human communication disorders. Research objectives include: studies of electromechanical processes responsible for fine tuning in the cochlea; identification, characterization, and cloning of genes responsible for hereditary hearing impairment; electromotility of the outer hair cell; molecular bases of mechanosensory transduction mechanisms in the organ of Corti; molecular bases for G-protein signaling with emphasis on sensory signaling processes in the chemical senses; development of vaccines for otitis media; molecular mechanisms underlying the development and function of the mammalian taste system; mechanisms responsible for the development of the inner ear; molecular mechanisms underlying auditory system function with emphasis on neurotransmission and neuromodulation; identification of genes associated with neoplasms affecting human communication; identification of the genetic component of stuttering; neuroimaging of brain function in physiologic and pathophysiologic states; pathophysiology and etiology of voice and speech disorders; and epidemiological and biometric research studies of communication disorders.
The Division of Extramural Activities provides leadership and advice in developing, implementing, and coordinating extramural programs and policies. It represents the Institute on NIH committees on extramural program policies and oversees compliance with such policies within the NIDCD. The Division provides grant management and processing services for all of the Institute's grants and conducts initial scientific merit review of a large array of grant mechanisms. In addition, the Division coordinates the Institute's committee management activities, research integrity activities, and Certificates of Confidentiality, and manages the meetings of the National Deafness and Other Communication Disorders Advisory Council. The Division has 2 components: Grants Management Branch and Scientific Review Branch.
- Grants Management Branch (GMB)—focal point for all business-related activities associated with the negotiation, award, and administration of grants and cooperative agreements within the NIDCD. GMB plays a critical role of bridging among the various NIH offices (review, program, financial management, and policy), institutional offices of sponsored programs, and principal investigators.
- Scientific Review Branch (SRB)—coordinates the initial scientific peer review of applications for the following mechanisms of support: research project grants, clinical center and core center grants, research training and career development grants, clinical trials, conference grants, and cooperative agreements. SRB also coordinates receipt and referral issues with the Center for Scientific Review, represents NIDCD on trans-NIH committees, as well as NIH's overall committee for review policies, and manages all aspects of NIDCD's peer review process.
The Division of Scientific Programs of NIDCD is responsible for coordinating a broad range of activities and functions to ensure sound and efficient management of NIDCD's extramural research including research grants, career development awards, individual and institutional research training awards, center grants, and contracts to public and private research institutions and organizations. The division provides leadership and advice in developing, implementing, and coordinating extramural programs and policies. It represents the Institute on NIH committees on extramural program policies and oversees compliance with such policies within the NIDCD. The division is responsible for the development and implementation of scientific initiatives based on scientific portfolio assessment. The division plans and directs grant and contract support for research and research training in the normal processes and diseases and disorders of hearing, balance, taste, smell, voice, speech, and language. The division works to insure maximum utilization of available resources in attainment of the Institute's objectives; assesses needs for research and research training in program areas; establishes program priorities and recommends funding levels for programs to be supported by grants; and works to facilitate new research directions and the development of new investigators.
Decades of cellular and molecular approaches have identified numerous genes and proteins important to hearing function. A multitude of genes for syndromic and nonsyndromic forms of hearing impairment including autosomal dominant and recessive, X-linked and mitochondrial modes of transmission have been located in specific regions of the human genome. In addition, clinically relevant genes essential for normal auditory development and/or function have been identified and cloned at a rapid pace. Other cochlear-specific genes have been isolated from enriched membranous labyrinth cDNA libraries. Development of detailed maps using numerous approaches, including expressed sequence tags (EST) coupled with the use of inner ear specific cDNA libraries, exon trapping, and cDNA library enrichment procedures, have facilitated gene cloning.
The use of mouse models of hereditary hearing impairment have been instrumental in mapping and cloning many deafness genes. Because of the utility of the mouse for such studies, additional mouse models of deafness are being created through mutagenesis and screening programs as well as targeted mutation of deafness genes found in man. In addition, mouse models are being used to study the function of the proteins encoded by deafness genes and to test therapeutic approaches. These advances offer researchers many opportunities to study the characteristics of deafness, hereditary factors involved in hearing loss, and genes that are critical for the development and maintenance of the human ear. Great strides are being made in the study of properties of auditory sensory cells and of characteristics of the inner ear's response to sound.
Other less obvious model systems have also proven invaluable to hearing technology. With the difficulty to hear conversations in the midst of a crowded, noisy room using current hearing aids, NIDCD-supported researchers have continued to work towards revolutionizing the technology of directional microphones. The technology is based on the ears of a parasitic fly, Ormia ochracea. Despite the small size of the insect's ears and the short distance between them, Ormia's ears are able to rapidly pinpoint the location from which the sound of a potential host—a cricket—is coming, even in a noisy environment. The intriguing mechanism that enables Ormia to accomplish this feat has provided a model for scientists and engineers to use in developing miniature directional microphones for hearing aids that can better focus on speech in a single conversation, even when surrounded by other voices.
A randomized, double-blinded phase III clinical trial concluded recently that intratympanic steriod injections given across the eardrum into the middle and inner ear were not inferior to traditional oral steriod therapy in treating sudden sensorineural hearing loss. Side effects and risks were minimal. This clinical trial supports alternative treatment for patients with medical conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, that might not tolerate oral steroid therapy well.
Scientific advances have also been translated into cochlear implants. Research has verified that despite the variability in the performance of children who have received cochlear implants, most demonstrate marked improvements in speech perception and production. Cochlear implants also positively influence children's receptive and expressive language skills. The earlier children are implanted and the longer children use their implants, the greater their language ability. To achieve the most benefit from their implants, however, children generally need extensive oral-auditory training following implantation and also benefit from periodic audiological assessments. Cochlear implants have benefited children who are congenitally deaf as well as those who are postlingually deaf. The vast majority of adult implant recipients derive substantial benefit in conjunction with speechreading, and most can communicate effectively by telephone. Clinical treatment paradigms are continually advancing and now include simultaneously implanting bilateral (both ears) cochlear implants in pediatric and adult populations. Most recently, a new shortened electrode is being studied, with hopes of improving the ability of cochlear implant recipients to understand speech in noise. This electrode, which makes use of still-functioning sensory cells in the inner ear combined with an electronic speech processor, may also allow some hearing aid users who are not benefiting from their hearing aids to become cochlear implant candidates.
Neural prosthesis development efforts are continuing to seek improved device design elements and novel algorithms for operation. These activities are primarily based on animal studies that allow new concepts for selective stimulation of neural tissue to be tested quantitatively and any risks for safe operation identified through both neurophysiologic and histologic studies. Microstimulation delivered through electrodes that penetrate the neural tissue and infrared optical stimulation are two examples of novel device elements currently under development. Other research projects are assessing novel signal processing and stimulation algorithms which could be provided to the current generation cochlear implant recipients, if they are proven to extend user performance limits.
It is estimated that about 25 million Americans experience tinnitus each year that lasts 5 minutes or longer. Of these, about 12 million have tinnitus severe enough to seek medical attention. Many learn to ignore the sounds and experience no major effects. However, about 2 million patients are so seriously debilitated that they cannot function normally, finding it difficult to hear, work, or sleep. For many years, it was believed that structures in the inner ear produced tinnitus, but more recent evidence suggests that for most people, tinnitus is generated in the central nervous system following damage to the inner ear that results in a permanent hearing loss. The FDA-cleared Neuromonics Tinnitus Treatment is intended to provide a relief from the disturbance of tinnitus by providing sounds that are specifically adapted to tinnitus experienced by the patient as a part of a tinnitus management program. Although research is providing more evidence for the causes of tinnitus, advances in the basic research for understanding the biological bases of tinnitus are needed.
Valuable progress has been made in understanding the structure and function of efferent feedback pathways to the inner and middle ear. There is now evidence that this system may aid in the detection of signals in noisy environments and serve to protect the ear from acoustic injury.
Our knowledge of the mechanisms of neural plasticity (the ability of the brain to change or adapt) has increased tremendously over the past decade. In contrast, our knowledge of the mechanisms that regulate and instruct plasticity remains primitive. The calibration of the auditory system's map of space by the visual system is a well-characterized example of supervised learning. In an animal model, the site in the auditory pathway where visual signals exert their effects, and the structural and functional changes they cause, have been determined. However, the properties of the instructive signals themselves, and the mechanisms by which they exert their effects, remain unknown. Research is ongoing to understand these mysteries, which will allow us to better understand learning and learning problems.
In the aging auditory system, discoveries have been made demonstrating changes in the regulation of fluid composition and autoregulation of cochlear blood flow which may underlie some of the biologic effects of aging on auditory function. The role of the stria vascularis in maintaining cochlear homoestasis has now been shown to be a component in the loss in hearing accompanying aging. Improved behavioral and electrophysiological techniques for measuring auditory function are providing more accurate assessments of the peripheral and central components of age-related hearing impairment.
Recent development of animal models for bacterial and viral infections hold promise for new diagnostic and therapeutic approaches to sensorineural hearing loss caused by infections. Antiviral drugs may find rapid application in the treatment for these conditions with the advent of suitable animal models in which to test efficacy. In addition, models will allow a greater understanding of why and to what degree infants and children are susceptible to ototoxic drugs used in the treatment of infections.
Otitis media continues to be a significant focus of research because of its prevalence and cost to society. Important risk factors have been identified. Studies of the eustachian tubes have provided new information on tubal mechanics, surfactant-like (fluid) substances and middle ear pressure regulation. The role of bacterial biofilms in chronic otitis media is a new and promising area of investigation. State-of-the-art molecular, genetic and genomic techniques are being used to identify genes that may predispose an individual to chronic otitis media. These techniques are also being used to define the specific molecular changes that allow viral and bacterial infection of the middle ear as well as the host/pathogen interactions that facilitate the disease process. The EarPopper (developed with support from the Small-Business Innovation Research Program) is a safe, simple, non-surgical, non-drug related prescription device for treating such common conditions as otitis media with effusion, aerotitis/barotitis (caused by rapid elevation changes), and eustachian tube dysfunction in children and adults.
NIDCD supports research on balance and the vestibular system. Balance disorders affect a large proportion of the population, particularly the elderly. The vestibular system, with its receptor organs located in the inner ear, plays an important role in the control of balance while the body is immobile and in motion, the maintenance of one's orientation in space, and visual fixation of objects during head movement. Vestibular disorders can therefore yield symptoms of imbalance, vertigo (the illusion of motion), disorientation, instability, falling, and visual blurring (particularly during motion). Deficits in vestibular function result from diverse disease processes, including infection, trauma, toxicity, impaired blood supply, autoimmune disease, impaired metabolic function, and tumors.
The cellular motion detectors of the vestibular system are mechanosensory hair cells, activated by movements of fluids and masses in the inner ear. New technologies are being used with NIDCD support to visualize and understand the micromechanical motions and the biophysical mechanisms that lead to the neural signals carried from the inner ear to the brain.
Investigators supported by the NIDCD also use molecular and biochemical approaches to characterize cellular biochemical pathways essential to normal development and function in the vestibular system. The genetic bases of several human-inherited cerebellar syndromes of imbalance and incoordination are currently being investigated.
NIDCD-supported studies suggest that, in addition to its role in the stabilization of gaze and balance, the vestibular system plays an important role in regulating respiratory muscles as well as autonomic functions, including blood pressure. These studies hold potential clinical relevance for the understanding of certain kinds of breathing problems, and management of orthostatic hypotension (lowered blood pressure related to a change in body posture).
The Institute supports research to develop and refine tests of balance and vestibular function. Computer-controlled systems have been developed and validated for clinical use to measure eye movement and body postural responses activated by stimulating specific parts of the vestibular sense organ and nerve. Also, tests of functional disability and physical rehabilitative strategies currently being applied in clinical and research settings will have important implications for refining the rehabilitation of patients with balance and vestibular disorders.
For the first time, a prosthesis for balance disorders has been implanted in a human. In the United States, more than 150,000 individuals are estimated to suffer from severe to profound bilateral vestibular deficiency, and a prosthesis of this type potentially could help many of these people, as well as patients with disabling episodes of vestibular dysfunction such as from Méničre’s disease. NIDCD funding helped support development of the device and preclinical animal testing for its use in the treatment of balance disorders.
Taste and Smell
NIDCD investigators study the chemical senses of olfaction (smell) and gustation (taste) to enhance our understanding of how individuals sense their environment and make discriminating food choices. A taste or smell problem may seem like a relatively minor health issue to some; however, these disorders can have a major impact on a person’s quality of life, food preferences, diet, and overall health. Taste and smell problems are often associated with high-priority health risks, such as poor nutrition, adult-onset diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. In addition, a decline in the sense of smell may serve as an indicator of future cognitive problems such as Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease. The NIDCD supports research to study the prevalance of taste and smell dysfunction and associated health risks.
Advances in molecular and cellular biology, biophysics, and biochemistry of the olfactory and gustatory systems are paving the way for improved diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of chemosensory disorders. NIDCD scientists are presently characterizing the receptor, signal transduction pathways, and neurotransmitters used by olfactory and taste sensory receptor cells. These studies are being conducted using a range of model systems from invertebrates to humans and hold promise of broad public health relevance. For example, NIDCD-funded researchers are studying the chemosensory receptors of insects, which transmit a wide variety of diseases (e.g., malaria, dengue fever, and yellow fever) and locate their human hosts primarily through smell and taste. Advances in understanding insect chemosensation and host-seeking behavior will offer new strategies for pest control and the prevention of insect-borne diseases.
NIDCD researchers are also studying how taste substances bind to their targeted receptors. The goal is to facilitate the rational design of artificial sweeteners and salt substitutes to combat obesity as well as hypertension, which is strongly associated with the overconsumption of dietary salt. Such receptor binding studies will also facilitate the development of compounds that block the bitterness of some foods and medicines. The development of “bitter blockers” is especially important because the bitterness of many pediatric and antiviral HIV/AIDS medications can hinder treatment compliance.
The olfactory and gustatory systems are model systems for studying the fundamental mechanisms of neural plasticity. NIDCD scientists have found that taste and olfactory receptor cells are continually replaced and have the further capacity to replace themselves rapidly in response to injury. With every hard sneeze and with every burnt tongue from a hot cup of coffee, olfactory and taste receptor cells are destroyed and then replaced. In addition, chronic rhinosinusitis and nasal polyps can affect olfactory function, and a variety of prescription medications can harm taste cells. Taste and olfactory receptor cells are the only known mammalian sensory cells with this native regenerative capability, and the olfactory system is now used as a model system in studies of neuronal regeneration and the biology of multipotent stem cells. Unfortunately, the plasticity of the olfactory system declines with age, with important consequences to the health of the increasingly aged population. The perceived quality of foods moves toward blandness in the elderly and this affects food intake, diet and overall nutrition, and health status. Prevention of this age-related decline in olfactory sensitivity is being studied by NIDCD investigators.
The molecular biological studies of olfactory and taste receptor cells have provided essential information about the sensitivities of the chemical senses at the first level of neural integration. The coding of odorants and tastants by the central nervous system begins at the level of the receptor cell. In addition, in both the olfactory and gustatory systems, odor and taste quality coding are further refined by computational processes of the central nervous system. NIDCD-funded projects using a wide range of approaches including optogenetics, in vivo recording, psychophysics, and neural imaging and tracing are examining the temporal and spatial nature of central coding and the functional connectivity between chemosensory brain areas. Understanding how taste and smell information is represented and integrated in the brain to form flavor perceptions, and how this process is shaped by experience, may provide insights into strategies for modifying eating disorders.
Voice, Speech, and Language
Studies in the voice and speech program focus on determining the nature, causes, treatment, and prevention of a variety of disorders of motor speech production throughout the lifespan. Research is being conducted on disorders such as stuttering, speech-sound acquisition disorders, childhood apraxia of speech, voice disorders, and swallowing disorders. When oral speech communication may not be a realistic option for individuals with severe dysarthria, alternative and augmentative communication (AAC) devices and strategies are used. Substantial progress has been made in the development of augmentative communication devices to facilitate the expressive communication of persons with severe communication disabilities. An investigation of performance by young users of augmentative communicative devices is in progress. By providing access to computers, including a brain-computer interface communication prosthesis, individuals with disabilities can immediately use personal computer software programs and speech synthesizers for augmentative communication.
NIDCD-funded investigators are actively working to provide locked-in individuals with a direct means of producing speech to allow rapid communication between the individual and caregivers. The individual's control of computers will be enabled through development of a direct brain-to-speech generator that uses a person's neural signals.
NIDCD-funded investigators are studying a variety of treatments interventions for voice and speech disorders. One study is comparing behavioral treatments for voice disorders in school teachers. Basic research is laying the groundwork for translational research towards creating a more successful treatment of laryngeal paralysis and other peripheral nerve injuries. Others are studying the limbic and motor system interaction in laryngeal function using an animal model to better understand mechanisms of voice disorders and speech disorders and their recovery.
Language research continues to expand our knowledge of the role played by each brain hemisphere in communication and language, early specialization of the brain, and the recovery process following brain damage. This research will further our understanding of the neural bases of language and language disorders. Research on acquisition, characterization, and utilization of American Sign Language is expanding knowledge of the language used by many people who are deaf.
Language researchers supported by NIDCD are also exploring the genetic bases of child speech and language disorders, as well as characterizing the linguistic and cognitive deficits in children and adults with language disorders. Researchers are developing effective diagnostic and intervention strategies for children who are autistic, or have specific language impairment, as well as adults with aphasia. NIDCD researchers are providing critical information regarding ways of predicting useful speech development in children with autism, as well as identifying efficacious approaches to assessing language, social, and behavior functioning in nonverbal school-aged children with autism. Such information will provide much-needed guidance in selecting among existing communication treatments and guide the development of new communication treatments for children with autism.
The NIDCD clinical trials program provides the highest level of evidence to support new medical and behavioral interventions to treat and rehabilitate communication disorders. NIDCD supports all phase I, II, and III randomized clinical trials in mission areas of hearing, balance, taste, smell, voice, speech, and language. Studies include, among others: auditory retraining for tinnitus; targeted neuroplasticity via vagal nerve stimulation for tinnitus; cochlear implants in children with developmental delay; robotic percutaneous cochlear implantation; in-home auditory training in older adults with hearing aids; impact of hearing aid cost and service delivery on user satisfaction and quality of life; micronutrient prevention of noise-induced hearing loss; anakinra for steroid-resistant autoimmune sensorineural hearing loss; celecoxib treatment of recurrent respiratory papillomatosis; prevention and treatment of voice problems in teachers; novel voice therapy in children with vocal nodules; telemedicine for language development in cochlear implant recipients; novel techniques for aphasia rehabilitation; transcranial direct current stimulation for aphasia; and novel cleft palate surgery to prevent otitis media.
Epidemiology and Statistics
NIDCD supports epidemiological (clinical) and population-based research studies in all seven mission areas of the Institute: hearing, balance, smell, taste, voice, speech, and language. Studies assess impairments of hearing and other communication disorders across the lifespan, including risks associated with other health conditions as well as behavioral, demographic, environmental, and genetic factors. The research studies supported include longitudinal cohort studies, population-based health interview or examination cross-sectional surveys, and case-control studies, such as community-based and nationally-representative health interview and examination surveys to advance knowledge of the prevalence and determinants of communication disorders. The program maintains research collaborations on national health interview and examination surveys with other Federal agencies and with academic and private sector organizations via research contracts or interagency agreements. NIDCD epidemiologists have contributed to the analysis and interpretation of trends for the Hearing Health Promotion, Office of the Secretary, Department of Health and Human Services, and the development of Healthy People 2020, which incorporates health objectives for all seven mission areas of the NIDCD. Consultation on the design and analysis of studies of therapeutic interventions, disease prevention or progression, and environmental or genetic causes are provided as well as statistical methods that are developed and data systems are supported for the purposes of tracking prevalence rates and estimation of relative and attributable risks.