Global research is vital for deafness, speech disorders

May / June 2014 | Volume 13, Issue 3

Two young Pakistani girls stand together looking at camera wearing brightly colored outfits and headscarves
Photo by Center for Communication
Programs/Photoshare

NIDCD supports studies in countries
such as Pakistan, for research that
may lead to new treatments for
deafness, stuttering and other
conditions.

A Pakistani baby never hears her mother sing and a Cameroon teen who stutters is teased by peers. They both struggle with communication conditions that can undermine their health and quality of life. By studying these disorders in populations outside as well as within the U.S., NIH scientists and funded researchers are working to discover new causes and improve interventions.

The WHO estimates 360 million people - over 5 percent of the world's population - have disabling hearing loss, with the burden falling disproportionately on populations in low- and middle-income countries - as much as 80 percent of the total. Up to 1 percent of people stutter, and others have voice, speech, or language disorders.

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) supports more than 1,000 research and training awards - including a number in low-resource settings - focusing on genes, infections, toxic compounds, brain and ear injury, and other factors that can contribute to communication disorders. Although most of the NIDCD's research is for hearing loss and deafness, NIDCD staff scientists and grantees also study disorders involving voice, speech or language, as well as balance, taste and smell.

"Communication disorders can have an overwhelming effect on individuals of all ages, ethnic groups and socioeconomic status," said NIDCD Director Dr. James F. Battey, Jr. "NIDCD's research is helping improve the lives of individuals throughout the world, while at the same time, individuals across the globe have led our scientists to significant discoveries in communication disorders."

These conditions can bring substantial costs throughout the lifespan. Untreated hearing impairment in the very young can hold back language development and education, and in adults can hurt professional and social lives. Over time, these types of health burdens are likely to increase as more premature infants and victims of traumatic injury survive. Also, as the aging population grows, so will the numbers of individuals with hearing loss, speech difficulty after stroke and other communication hurdles.

Many NIDCD-supported scientists have some global health research involvement. By studying large families that have a particular communication disorder, NIDCD scientists have discovered a number of genes associated with deafness and stuttering. These findings are steadily increasing scientific knowledge and moving science closer to more effective tools to diagnose and treat people with these communication disorders.

About the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) is one of the 27 Institutes and Centers that constitute NIH. It was established by Congress in 1988 and its director is Dr. James F. Battey, Jr.

The NIDCD's mission is to reduce the burden of communication disorders and improve public health through basic and clinical research and training in both normal and disordered processes of hearing, balance, voice, speech, language, taste and smell. It also supports efforts in disease prevention and health promotion and the special biomedical and behavioral problems associated with people who have communication disorders.

With an annual research budget of about $383 million, the NIDCD supports staff scientists plus more than 1,000 research and training awards to scientists throughout the United States and beyond. Like NIH as a whole, about a tenth of the funding is for research by NIDCD staff scientists, with the rest supporting research conducted by external (extramural) researchers.

More Information

Global Deafness and Communication Disorders Research

Access recent scientific papers on deafness and communication disorders global health research supported by NIDCD.

  • Publication list coming soon.

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