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Launching new research to tackle hearing loss

Deaf Awareness Week 2024

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We are funding seven new research projects aimed at improving understanding, prevention, and treatment of hearing loss.

Despite hearing loss affecting around 11 million people in the UK (one in six of us), hearing research receives just 0.3 per cent of the UK’s total health research funding.

Hearing loss is largely preventable or treatable, yet it is becoming more prevalent. By 2031, it is estimated that 14.5 million people, approximately 20 per cent of the UK population, will experience a hearing condition or loss of hearing.

This increase is partly due to ageing populations (ageing is the biggest predictor of hearing loss), and ongoing stigma. Stigma surrounding loss of hearing can delay people getting tested and can discourage people from undergoing treatment (only 40 per cent of people who need hearing aids wear them.)

Hearing loss, and related conditions like tinnitus, can have a significant impact on wellbeing – affecting social interactions, communication, and can lead to depression, anxiety and insomnia.

To address this growing problem and lack of research investment, we are delighted to have awarded seven Launchpad grants to researchers based at University of Nottingham Hearing Sciences.

These awards, of up to £100,000, are supporting research into the mechanisms underpinning hearing loss, as well as its diverse impacts on wellbeing and everyday life. Read about the seven awarded projects below:

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Joseph Sollini and Sally Thornton Drs Joseph Sollini and Sally Thornton

Understanding the biology

Both Dr Joseph Sollini and Dr Sally Thornton’s research will help improve our understanding of biological mechanisms underpinning hearing loss.

Dr Joseph Sollini aims to understand better how different parts of the brain are involved in hearing when we are faced with background noise. His research could also improve our understanding of the relationship between hearing and memory-related disorders, like dementia.

Dr Sally Thornton’s project is exploring how, using blood testing, we can predict hearing loss in babies admitted to neonatal intensive care units. Better prediction of hearing loss could help ensure these at-risk infants can benefit from prevention strategies and earlier treatment.

Vassilis Pelekanos and Michael Akeroyd Dr Vassilis Pelekanos and Prof Michael Akeroyd

Developing and refining diagnostic methods and tests

Dr Vassilis Pelekanos and Professor Michael Akeroyd are both working to assess new methods for measuring and imaging hearing loss.

Dr Vassilis Pelekanos’ research is focused on exploring the causes of tinnitus, a hearing condition which causes ringing in the ears. Using cutting-edge brain imaging analysis techniques, Dr Pelekanos is looking closely at the brain’s subcortical auditory system – the neural pathways and structures involved in processing auditory information – to discover mechanisms involved in tinnitus.

Professor Michael Akeroyd is testing a new method for measuring hearing deterioration which can be carried out at home without specialist equipment over an extended period. This could help develop more individualised predictions for patients’ future hearing.

Scholes, Holman and Wu Drs Chris Scholes, Jack Holman and Mengfan Wu

Helping people with hearing loss in everyday life

Our three final awardees, Dr Chris Scholes, Dr Jack Holman and Dr Mengfan Wu, are working to better understand the impact of hearing loss on different aspects of everyday life and wellbeing.

Dr Chris Scholes is exploring a new model for helping those with hearing loss identify voices in noisy environments - by using vocal tract movement. The outcome will be a model that can predict vocal tract movement given either the voice or face or both, supporting those with hearing loss to interpret speech.

Dr Jack Holman wants to investigate how people with hearing loss experience the workplace, to help uncover potential interventions that can improve workplace well-being. Exploring structural, individual, and relational factors, as well as workplace attitudes, this project could influence workplace interventions to improve wellbeing for working adults with hearing loss.

Dr Mengfan Wu is examining how listening strategies are affected by hearing loss, hearing aid use, and training interventions. Dr Wu and her team hope that by studying differences in listening strategies, they can better explain individual differences in self-reported hearing and speech-understanding abilities.

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This new research has been made possible by gifts in Wills and donations to the former Medical Research Council (MRC) Institute of Hearing Research, including the generous support of Esme Gray, in memory of her son Stuart Gray. Stuart was working at the MRC Institute of Hearing Research in 1977 when he was tragically killed in a road accident nearby. Esme donated part of her estate to support hearing research in Stuart’s memory.