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NIDCD Director James Battey's 2013 Testimony to the Senate Subcommittee on Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations


Fiscal Year 2013 Budget Request

Witness appearing before the Senate Subcommittee on Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations

James F. Battey, Jr., M.D., Ph.D., Director
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders

March 2012

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Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

I am pleased to present the President's budget request for the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 NIDCD budget of $417,297,000 includes an increase of $1,519,000 over the comparable FY 2012 appropriation of $415,778,000.

The NIDCD conducts and supports research and research training in the normal and disordered processes of hearing, balance, smell, taste, voice, speech, and language. Our Institute focuses on disorders that affect the quality of life of millions of Americans in their homes, workplaces, and communities. The physical, emotional, and economic impact for individuals living with these disorders is tremendous. NIDCD continues to make investments to improve our understanding of the underlying causes of communication disorders, as well as their treatment and prevention. It is a time of extraordinary promise, and I am excited to be able to share with you some of NIDCD's ongoing research and planned activities addressing communication disorders.

Early Experience Shapes Salt Preference

Even though we know that too much salt is bad for our health, many of us still consume too much of it. In a typical diet, a lot of salt comes from starchy foods, such as breads and cereals. Too much salt can cause high blood pressure, or hypertension. Although hypertension itself usually has no symptoms, it can cause serious health problems such as stroke, heart failure, heart attack and kidney failure. NIDCD-supported scientists determined that babies whose diets contain starchy, salty foods will develop a preference for salty taste by as early as six months of age, as compared to babies who have not been given salty foods. During a preference test, the babies accustomed to saltier diets consumed 55 percent more salt than their unexposed peers. Salt preference endures into the preschool years, when children exposed to a salty diet as babies are more likely to consume plain salt. This research identifies a potential role for early dietary experiences in shaping taste preferences that could influence salt consumption in our adult years. If these results can be repeated in a larger study population, it suggests that we may be able to reduce salt consumption in future generations by encouraging parents to restrict salt in their babies' early diets. Reducing salt consumption will also reduce the incidence of hypertension, thus reducing healthcare costs due to hypertension and the serious health problems it can cause.

Identification of Major Proteins Involved in Hearing

According to NIDCD statistics, two to three out of 1,000 children in the U.S. are born deaf or hard of hearing, with changes in genes being a major cause of hearing impairment. NIDCD-supported scientists have shown that mutations in the TMC1 and TMC2 genes cause hereditary deafness in humans and mice. Further, they discovered that the proteins encoded by TMC1 and TMC2 genes may be key components of the long-sought after mechanotransduction channel in the inner ear—the place where mechanical stimulation of sound waves is transformed into electrical signals recognized by the brain as sound. Using mice without the TMC1 and TMC2 genes, the scientists discovered the mice had a deficit in the mechanotransduction channels in their sterocilia, the sound-sensing organelles of the inner ear, while the rest of the auditory hair cell's structure and function was normal. These genes and the proteins they regulate are the strongest candidates yet in the search for the transduction channel. If these genes do indeed encode the transduction channel, they will be useful tools to screen for drugs or molecules that bind to or pass through the channel and could be used to prevent damage to hair cells.

Keep the Noise Down on the Farm

Farming is loud work. Squealing pigs, grinding combines, whirring power tools, and roaring vehicles can add up to a lot of noise. Prevention and treatment of noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) is a priority for the NIDCD. NIDCD's campaign "It's a Noisy Planet. Protect their Hearing" promotes early education of elementary and middle-school children about NIHL and how to prevent it. The NIDCD has introduced new materials for parents of children who live and work on a farm to help them develop healthy hearing habits and protect their hearing for life. The NIDCD hopes that these materials will help protect individuals who live and work on a farm from developing NIHL. Preventing NIHL will improve quality of life for the millions exposed to noise, and decrease overall healthcare costs.

Saliva is Effective in Screening for CMV Infection in Newborns

In June, NIDCD-supported scientists reported that swabbing a newborn's mouth for saliva can be used to quickly and effectively screen for cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection, a leading cause of progressive hearing loss in children. Scientists at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) determined that saliva correctly identified every baby born with the infection when liquid samples were used, and 97.4 percent of babies when the samples were dried. Most babies infected with CMV don't show symptoms at birth. NIDCD has placed a high priority on developing diagnostic tools to screen babies for congenital CMV infection, so that those who test positive can be monitored for possible hearing loss. These children can be provided with appropriate intervention as soon as possible. Because of this research, we know that testing salva is an effective way to identify children at risk for hearing loss due to CMV.

HIV-Exposed Children at High Risk of Language Delay

Children who do not use language well may not do well in school and may also have difficulty communicating with their peers and establishing friendships. A recent study funded by the NIDCD and seven other NIH Institutes found that 35 percent of a group of school-age children born to women with an HIV infection during pregnancy have difficulty understanding spoken words and expressing themselves verbally. These data should encourage those caring for children exposed to HIV in the womb to provide early treatment for language impairments.

Department of Health and Human Services
National Institutes of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)
James F. Battey, Jr., M.D., Ph.D.

James F. Battey, Jr., received his Bachelor of Science degree in physics from the California Institute of Technology in 1974. He received an M.D. and Ph.D. in biophysics from Stanford University School of Medicine in 1980. After receiving training in pediatrics, he pursued a postdoctoral fellowship in genetics at Harvard Medical School under the mentorship of Dr. Philip Leder. Since completing his postdoctoral fellowship in 1983, he has held a variety of positions at the National Institutes of Health, serving in the National Cancer Institute, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). Currently, he is the director of the NIDCD, and also serves as the vice chair of the NIH Stem Cell Task Force. He has been married for 31 years to Frances Battey, and has two sons, Michael and JJ.

Last Updated Date: 
August 2, 2016