$5.7 Million Grant To UB’s Center For Hearing And Deafness To Fund Four Major Projects On Acquired Hearing Loss

NIH awards center prestigious program project grant

By Lois Baker

Release Date: February 11, 1999 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The University at Buffalo's Center for Hearing and Deafness, one of the world's leading hearing research laboratories, has received a $5.7 million program project grant from the National Institutes of Health to expand studies geared to understanding and treating acquired hearing loss, a condition affecting 28 million people in the United States alone.

The five-year grant funds four projects on the function of the peripheral and central auditory system that aim to determine how and why noise and certain therapeutic drugs cause loss of hearing.

Richard J. Salvi, Ph.D., professor of communicative disorders and sciences and otolaryngology, is chief investigator on the project, which is grounded in a dozen years of research conducted at UB by a team of internationally recognized scientists in the Center for Hearing and Deafness. The center is a multidisciplinary effort involving 30 scientists spanning eight departments and three schools within UB.

"To understand why a patient experiences difficulty in processing complex sounds, we need first to understand how the auditory system processes acoustic information along the entire auditory pathway," said Salvi.

"Damage that originates at the periphery, or inner ear, can cascade through the system, disturbing activity throughout the entire auditory pathway, even spilling over to other sensory, motor, cognitive and emotion centers. This functional reorganization, or plasticity, is poorly understood because of a lack of an integrative research approach to acquired hearing loss. Our project provides such an approach."

The team in recent years has produced a body of groundbreaking basic research into the causes and mechanisms of acquired hearing loss.

In recent years, the research has focused on four overlapping themes that form the basis for the current program project grant.

The projects target molecular and cellular mechanisms of hearing loss, effects of ototoxic agents and noise on cochlear function, functional alterations of the central auditory brain regions after partial or temporary hearing loss and the role ears' inner hair cells in the brain's processing of auditory stimuli.

Each of the four areas of study funded by the grant addresses a major problem, while relating and interacting with the others. As in their past studies, the researchers will use chinchillas as an animal model, because their hearing range is similar to a human's.

The projects are:

• The Role of Ears' Inner Hair Cells in Hearing and Hearing Disorders, focusing on the function and behavior of ears' inner hair cells at the level of single auditory nerve fibers.

• Responses of the Central Auditory System to Peripheral Damage, investigating how the central auditory system responds when some or all of its auditory nerve input is either permanently or temporarily eliminated.

• The Role of Antioxidants in Noise Induced Hearing Loss, exploring the relationship between concentrations of protective antioxidant enzymes and the degree of noise- or drug-induced hearing loss. The study aims to find ways to protect the inner ear from damage.

• Efferent Influences on Susceptibility to Cochlear Damage, focusing on ways to protect the ear from noise- and drug-induced damage. It will seek to understand how specialized nerve fibers from the brain influence the degree of cochlear damage from noise and ototoxic drugs.

In addition to their basic scientific merit, the four projects have implications for preventing and treating hearing loss in humans.

Salvi said the first two projects were motivated by a growing awareness that loss of ears' inner hair cells may underlie many of the perceptual difficulties experienced by people with sensorineural hearing loss and by concern over the lack of clinical methods for assessing loss of inner hair cells.

The third and fourth projects were motivated by the sense that susceptibility to hearing loss from ototoxic drugs and noise may vary tremendously among individuals, that identifying factors that contribute to susceptibility may be crucial to preventing or treating acquired hearing loss and that a possibility exists that pharmacologic intervention may reduce the hearing loss produced by exposure to noise or ototoxic drugs.

The center has active collaborations with a number of institutions, including the Robert Taft Research Labs at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the U.S. Navy.