Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions announced today that it is one of three medical centers designated by the federal government to establish new comprehensive programs to study hearing, balance and related problems.
Supported by a $3 million, three-year grant from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), the Hopkins Hearing and Balance Center will study how hearing and balance damage occurs and develop better ways of diagnosing and treating disorders.
For example, researchers will look at how hair cells in the inner ear are damaged. These cells are responsible for the initial hearing process.
Researchers will also investigate whether exercise can improve recovery in patients with balance difficulties, such as the disabling dizziness of vertigo and Meniere's disease.
Among its other duties, the center will launch an outreach campaign to raise awareness of hearing and balance problems among the elderly, cancer patients and school children.
"Over the past 10 years, there has been an explosion in our understanding of the basic mechanisms of hearing and balance, but we have made little progress in applying these results to solving clinical problems," said Dr. Murray B. Sachs, professor of biomedical engineering at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the center's program director.
"In the Hearing and Balance Center, interaction between basic and clinical scientists will be the rule rather than the exception," Sachs said. He said that heightening awareness of hearing and balance problems is extremely important "since we are finding that prompt treatment can, in certain cases, reduce long-term disabilities."
The centers, the first of their kind, also are at the University of Iowa and at Boys Town in Nebraska.
Their establishment was mandated by Congress because hearing and other communications problems were not being adequately addressed by existing National Institutes of Health divisions, officials said.
An estimated 30 million Americans have some form of hearing problem.