Today, I am pleased to announce the release of the 2023-2027 NIDCD Strategic Plan: Advancing the Science of Communication to Improve Lives. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) will use the plan to guide research investments in our mission areas of hearing, balance, taste, smell, voice, speech, and language over the next five years.
Messages from the NIDCD Director
The NIH INCLUDE Project (INvestigation of Co-occurring conditions across the Lifespan to Understand Down syndromE) aims to address critical health and quality-of-life needs of people with Down syndrome. Individuals with Down syndrome can face significant health challenges, including hearing problems and difficulty with speech and language. In this director’s message, I describe this important NIH program, which offers opportunities for support for the NIDCD research community. I also provide a brief summary of topics discussed at our most recent National Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NDCD) Advisory Council Meeting in September.
The United States marks a significant milestone in advancing hearing health care, as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued its final rule establishing guidelines for over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids. This landmark rule, released on August 16, 2022, is part of a broader effort to expand access to high-quality, affordable health care for all Americans. OTC hearing aids are intended to address perceived mild to moderate hearing loss in people 18 or older. Now, millions of adults who have trouble hearing will be able to buy less expensive hearing aids without a medical exam, prescription, or fitting by an audiologist.
Building a diverse scientific workforce, a new NIH data sharing policy, and an update on the NIDCD’s May advisory council meeting
NIH has had a longstanding commitment to recruiting talent from diverse groups and to removing barriers to professional advancement for underrepresented minorities. In keeping with this goal, I have made expanding diversity, equity, and inclusion within the NIDCD intramural and extramural workforces one of my chief aims since taking on the directorship of the institute in 2019. In this message, I update you on our ongoing efforts in this area. I also share details regarding an important new NIH policy: Effective in early 2023, grant applicants will be required to include a data management plan in their applications, and in most cases to make their data publicly available. Finally, I provide a brief summary of topics discussed at our latest National Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NDCD) Advisory Council Meeting in May.
Scientific partnerships with the National Institute on Aging and an update on the NIDCD’s January advisory council meeting
Collaboration between NIH institutes is a valuable way to integrate knowledge bases, expertise, methodologies, and infrastructures and apply them toward shared goals. These partnerships bring multidisciplinary approaches to important scientific questions and lead to innovative strategies for preventing, diagnosing, and treating a wide range of health conditions. In this director’s message, I share some of our collaborations with the NIH’s National Institute on Aging (NIA), illustrating the value of cooperation in advancing science in new directions. I also provide a brief summary of topics discussed at our most recent National Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NDCD) Advisory Council Meeting in January.
New clinician-scientist training programs and an update on the NIDCD’s September advisory council meeting
Building on our commitment to growing the biomedical research workforce in the NIDCD’s research areas, the institute has launched new programs aimed at fostering the development of research skills among clinicians. In this director’s message, I describe these new initiatives, and provide a brief summary of topics discussed at our most recent National Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NDCD) Advisory Council Meeting in September.
The quest to better understand otitis media (OM) has made great strides in recent years. Researchers—many supported by the NIDCD—have identified potential vaccine candidates, uncovered the role of bacterial biofilms in treatment resistance, developed OM animal models, and characterized the host immune response to the condition, among many other advances. To accelerate the translation of this strong foundational knowledge to clinical strategies for preventing and treating OM, last autumn the NIDCD convened a group of scientific experts online for the NIDCD Workshop on Otitis Media in Early Childhood. This message will give you a sense of the topics the participants discussed and the knowledge gaps they identified. I’ve also included highlights from the May meeting of the National Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NDCD) Advisory Council Meeting.
The award-winning film “Sound of Metal” portrays a musician in recovery from substance use disorder who is confronted with sudden, complete hearing loss. The experience shatters his life. Lauded by some with hearing loss for its realistic depiction of this experience—the fear, the frustration, the uncertainty—the film’s creative use of sound earned it an Academy Award. Credit: "Academy Award Winner" by Dave B. is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
When it comes to the BRAIN Initiative, there is a lot to be excited about—a new director, an array of transformative advances, and the start of a new phase. In this director’s message, I describe this groundbreaking NIH program, which offers opportunities for support for the NIDCD neuroscience community. I have also provided a brief summary of topics discussed at our most recent National Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NDCD) Advisory Council Meeting in January.
On March 1, 2021, Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., director of the National Institutes of Health, launched a new initiative, UNITE, to identify actions to address structural racism at NIH, the institutions we support, and anywhere NIH research activities take place, with the overall goal of ending racial inequities across the biomedical research enterprise.
The forthcoming trans-NIH Faculty Institutional Recruitment for Sustainable Transformation (FIRST) program will propose an innovative model to address faculty diversity and inclusion in biomedical research.
As I reflect on my one-year anniversary as NIDCD director, I am grateful for the institute’s talented and resilient scientists and staff and for our many outstanding grantees at research institutions across the country. Although the pandemic has upended our personal and professional lives in ways we never could have imagined, the continued commitment to the NIDCD’s mission inspires me. Thank you to all for the efforts to navigate a challenging road during the past months.
Urgent calls to confront systemic racism in our society are demanding our attention. In June, Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., Director of the National Institutes of Health, called upon each of us in the NIH community to “reaffirm our common resolve … to ensure we foster a culture of inclusion, equity, and respect for one another . ...” I write now to affirm the NIDCD’s commitment to inclusive excellence, and our resolve to both embrace and enable the contributions of a diverse scientific workforce.
Communication is an important and complex transaction that depends on visual and, often, auditory (hearing) cues. Factors that influence how well our spoken language is received include our eye contact and body language, whether we stand or sit while speaking, the tone of our voices and our facial expressions, and environmental lighting and background noise.
Approximately 15% of U.S. adults report some degree of hearing loss. Untreated hearing loss is a huge issue for human health. It may lead to isolation, and it has been associated with serious conditions such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, dementia, reduced mobility, and falls.
Approximately 466 million children and adults worldwide have disabling hearing loss, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Unaddressed hearing loss costs an estimated US$750 billion annually worldwide and potentially interferes greatly with an individual’s physical, behavioral, and social functioning.
The NIDCD’s mission is to improve the lives of the millions of people with hearing loss and other communication disorders, spanning functions of hearing, balance, taste, smell, voice, speech, and language.