Center For Hearing And Deafness Receives Grants Totaling $30,000 For Three Studies

Release Date: October 5, 1998 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Are some people more likely than others to lose their hearing from exposure to noise, age or certain drugs? Can they be identified before they suffer hearing loss? And can their hearing be protected or even restored after their hearing is damaged?

These questions are critically important to the more than 30 million Americans of all ages who suffer some degree of hearing loss. Now, thanks to $30,000 in grants received by the University at Buffalo Center for Hearing and Deafness, UB researchers may help answer these and other questions.

The three $10,000 grants were awarded by the National Organization for Hearing Research, a private corporation in Narberth, Pa., that funds innovative research in the prevention, causes, treatments and cures of hearing loss and deafness.

One of the studies will examine the human brain's ability to protect against noise-induced hearing loss. The study, directed by X.Y. Zheng, M.D., research assistant professor of communicative disorders and sciences, will focus on special nerves called efferent nerves. It could identify individuals at risk of noise-induced hearing loss so they can avoid prolonged exposure to noise, or take special measures to protect their hearing from irreversible damage. For example, individuals whose efferent nerves are less effective in preventing hearing loss should avoid careers such as the military and construction, or any work where exposure to loud or prolonged noises is common.

A second study, directed by Sandra L. McFadden, Ph.D., research assistant professor of communicative disorders and sciences, and psychology, will examine the effects of free oxygen radicals on age-related hearing loss. The study will examine whether a naturally occurring antioxidant enzyme that neutralizes free oxygen radicals protects against hearing loss that is associated with age. If higher enzyme levels are found to help prevent hearing loss, identifying people with lower enzyme levels could lead to treatments to reduce or prevent hearing loss in these individuals as they grow older.

The third study has implications for cancer patients who have suffered hearing loss due to the side effects of powerful anti-cancer drugs and other causes. In this study, directed by Jian Wang, M.D., research assistant professor of communicative disorders and sciences, researchers will attempt to reduce and even prevent loss of nerve fibers in the inner ear by using substances called neurotrophins. Findings from the study could have implications for cancer patients, as well as for profoundly deaf patients who have been fitted with a cochlear prosthesis, a small electronic device implanted in the inner ear. If the neurotrophins protect existing auditory nerve fibers or induce the formation of new neural connections, their use could improve the effectiveness of cochlear implants.