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NIDCD Director James Battey's 2016 Testimony to the Senate Subcommittee on Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations


Fiscal Year 2016 Budget Request

Statement for the Record
Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies

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

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Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

I am pleased to present the President’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 budget request for the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  The FY 2016 NIDCD budget of $416,241,000 includes an increase of $11,034,000 over the comparable FY 2015 level of $405,207,000.

The NIDCD conducts and supports research, and research training in the normal and disordered processes of hearing, balance, taste, smell, 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. The 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 on communication disorders.

Hearing Health Care

Roughly 25% of Americans between the ages of 65 and 74 report hearing loss, and nearly 50% of those older than 75 years of age report at least some difficulty hearing. Among adults age 70 and older with hearing loss who could benefit from hearing aids, less than 30% has ever used them. Even fewer adults age 20 to 69 (approximately 16%) who could benefit from wearing hearing aids have ever used them. The needs of the majority of adults with hearing loss are not being met, and the cost and accessibility of hearing aids are considered to be part of the barriers to care. The NIDCD is working to fill this need by supporting research or infrastructure that will lead to more accessible and affordable hearing health care for adults. In addition, NIDCD is working with the Institute of Medicine to cosponsor a consensus development study to consider hearing health care from the health care and population health perspectives, including the regulatory environment, access, and affordability. By identifying the research gaps related to effective and affordable hearing health care, devices, and compliance, and by developing novel strategies to overcome these gaps, NIDCD clinical and translational research will endeavor to improve the quality of life for millions of Americans with hearing loss.

Insights on How We Hear Different Frequencies

The human ear can detect a wide range of sound frequencies, from the low rumbles of distant thunder to the high-pitched whine of a mosquito. The sensory cells in the inner ear that detect these sounds are called hair cells, named for the hair-like strands that cluster on their tops. Hair cells are spread across a flat surface called the basilar membrane, which is rolled like a carpet and tucked into a snail shell-shaped structure called the cochlea. Critical to our remarkable range of hearing is the special tonotopic organization, or tonotopy, of the hair cells within the cochlea in which hair cells are physically arranged according to the frequency of sound to which they are most sensitive, or “tuned.” The result is an anatomic organization much like the keys on a piano, with thousands of hair cells ordered along the basilar membrane’s length such that those that sense low pitches are at one end and those that detect high-frequency sounds are at the opposite end. Tonotopy is a fundamental organization principle of the auditory system that has been known for years, and this year NIDCD-supported scientists gained new insight into how tonotopic organization emerges during development. They demonstrated that a specific protein, Bmp7, is crucial in controlling how tonotopy develops and that small changes in the levels of Bmp7 can have a large effect on hair cell function. This new information will help us better understand how our brains are able to decipher and interpret sounds of different frequencies; and since many forms of hearing loss are limited to specific frequencies, this approach could lead to replacement sensory cells that are tailored to different frequencies. In addition, these studies may aid scientists and clinicians to design cochlear implants that can better mimic the way the cochlea transmits different sound frequency information to the brain to interpret.

Linking a Bad Diet to Smell Loss

Research has already shown us that a high-fat diet can lead to health problems like heart disease and diabetes. Recently, NIDCD-supported scientists identified a new risk of high-fat diets: your sense of smell may suffer. The scientists compared the olfactory ability (sense of smell) of mice that were fed either a high-fat diet or a normal-fat diet. Overweight mice raised on the high-fat diet had a reduced ability to sense odors because inflammation associated with a high-fat diet caused the death of many of their olfactory sensory neurons — cells in the nose that detect odors. Consequently, the obese mice on a high-fat diet were not as good at discriminating odors as normal-weight mice on a normal diet. Even after scientists switched the overweight mice to a normal-fat diet and they lost weight, the formerly overweight mice were still not as sensitive to odors as the mice that had never been overweight. If these phenomena hold true for humans, the data may help us understand how our diet impacts our sense of smell and influences our food choices and overall health.

Assistive Technology for Locked-in Syndrome

Locked-in syndrome is a state of near-total paralysis that happens as a result of brain injury or degeneration when the link has been broken between the movement centers of the brain, including the motor cortex, and the rest of the body.  It can happen after brain-stem stroke or traumatic brain injury and can also be a long-term consequence of neuromuscular disease, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease). People with locked-in syndrome still have the ability to think and feel; but without movement or speech, they cannot communicate with the world. NIDCD-supported scientists have developed a brain-computer interface technology that turns thoughts into words by recording signals in the brain that normally directs limb movement and then using computer programs to turn those signals into computer action.  Scientists are now testing the safety and long term capability of this implantable neural sensor to drive a communication device that can generate speech. This research provides hope that one day better communication can be restored in these individuals.


Mr. Chairman, I would like to thank you and Members of this Subcommittee for giving me the opportunity to present examples of recent research progress and to highlight some programs made possible through your support of the NIDCD.

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

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. He is married to Frances Battey, and has two sons, Michael and JJ.

Last Updated Date: 
February 10, 2016