Generous donations help to fund hearing loss research centers
Although hearing loss is not fatal, it can have a tremendous impact on those it affects. From family relationships to social relationships to work, hearing loss pervades every aspect of life; as such, research and the necessary funding for that research is vital to helping find ways to cure and prevent hearing loss and other disorders of the inner ear, and for improving the quality of life for millions.
For many years Johns Hopkins has been on the cutting edge of hearing loss research. Studies led by Dr. Frank Lin and others have led to groundbreaking discoveries in hearing health and paved the way for new treatment options for millions. And now, due to a sizable grant, plans are in the works to create a dedicated center for hearing restoration.
The 15 million dollar grant from philanthropist and CEO David Rubenstein to Johns Hopkins’ Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery will help to fund a state-of-the-art research center with a focus on restoring functional hearing, and will treat both congenital and acquired hearing loss. The patient care space for the otology clinic will be renamed the David M. Rubenstein Hearing Center. It will encompass the Division of Otology and Neurology, the Division of Audiology and the Listening Center, which is already one of the largest cochlear implant programs in the nation and offers a multi-faceted approach to cochlear implantation.
“These promising areas of research will hopefully get us closer to helping people with hearing loss and deafness,” Rubenstein said. “The sense of hearing is a precious gift, and we need to step up our efforts to ensure we help those in need.”
The areas of research the center will focus on will concentrate on new and innovative approaches to protect and repair the delicate structures of the inner ear, as well as exploring how to maximize the vital connectivity between the brain and the inner ear. The center will also work in tandem with clinical care in the areas of not only patient resources, but care coordination, patient and family education and trials of the latest technology.
“The generosity of individuals like David Rubenstein helps keep Johns Hopkins as the premier institution for cutting-edge research,” said Paul B. Rothman, M.D., dean of the medical faculty and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine. “This gift represents an important commitment to improve the health and well-being of our community and, ultimately, the world.”
For those with hearing loss, the timing has never been better for a new, cutting-edge research facility. According to the NIDCD, nearly 25 percent of those between the ages of 65 and 74 and 50 percent of those over the age of 75 have disabling hearing loss. Those numbers are on the rise due to the aging baby boomer population. Add to that the approximately 15 percent of Americans between the ages of 20 and 69 with noise-induced hearing loss, and over 200 billion dollars per year in associated costs including lost wages, and one can see why more, and newer, approaches to hearing loss research are necessary.
But despite its state-of-the-art, cutting edge goals, the Rubenstein Hearing research center is thankfully not the first of its kind. Oregon Health and Science University’s Kresge Hearing Research Laboratory , which has recently evolved into the Oregon Health and Science University Research Center, was established in 1960 with a generous donation from the Kresge Foundation. For years they have been focused on many issues vital to hearing health and those who have hearing loss. One of the most important areas of research has been the regeneration of hair cells in the auditory periphery. As an internationally renowned research facility, they are one of the world's leading centers for hearing research, the treatment of hearing disorders, and the prevention of hearing loss. In addition they have made important advances in the field of tinnitus research, and also conducted the first successful clinical trial proving that it is possible to prevent acquired hearing loss.
The goal of these dedicated hearing centers extends beyond pure research; these facilities foster discoveries that can move from the lab to the patient, which can then be turned into practical applications when it comes to patient care.
Virginia Merrill Bloedel Hearing Research Center at the University of Washington is another example of an institution dedicated to furthering basic understanding of basic processes of hearing and balance, and disorders of hearing and balance. Started in 1988, the VMBHRC was made possible through a multi-million dollar grant for hearing and auditory research. But this one was more personal; Philanthropist Prentice Bloedel’s wide Virginia had progressive hearing loss. Though they weren’t hopeful for a cure for her, they hoped to fund research for others who had hearing loss. In the subsequent years, the VMBHRC has made strides in inner ear hair cell regeneration, understanding of human hearing development and have helped to develop more innovative hearing testing methods for both children and the disabled.
One thing is certain: Whether the funds for these research centers are born from of those for whom hearing loss has a personal significance, a philanthropic vision, a dedication to medical research or just leaving a legacy, their generosity will most certainly help to improve the lives of millions.