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NIDCD Celebrates Its 10th Anniversary
The annual NIDCD Anniversary Lecture marks the establishment of the Institute and provides an opportunity to highlight outstanding research in human communication. This year, NIDCD commemorated its 10th anniversary on October 2, 1998, with a series of lectures from experts in the field. James F. Battey, Jr., M.D., Ph.D., director of NIDCD, opened the program with comments about the future directions of research related to communication disorders. Harold Varmus, M.D., NIH Director, spoke about NIDCD's creation and its accomplishments over the last decade. Four invited scientists presented talks that highlighted the current status of research in their fields and the rapid advances being made in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of communication disorders.
Genetic Control of Olfactory Behavior and Olfactory Signaling
Cori Bargmann, Ph.D., began the lectures with a discussion of the genetic control of olfactory behavior and olfactory signaling. Dr. Bargmann is an assistant investigator for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and professor at the University of California, San Francisco. Olfaction and gustation, the chemical senses, allow an individual to recognize important cues for food, predators, and others of the same species. The olfactory system does this by recognizing thousands of different chemicals, distinguishing among them, and conveying this information to the brain. Dr. Bargmann reported on her investigations into the development and function of olfactory neurons in the nematode C. (Caenorhabditis) elegans, an organism that can be studied using genetics, cell biology, and behavioral analysis.
The Labyrinth of Genes for Hearing Impairment
Thomas B. Friedman, Ph.D., chief of NIDCD's Laboratory of Molecular Genetics, discussed his research on the genetics of hereditary hearing impairment. Identification of the genes for hereditary hearing impairment is expected to elucidate the physiology, pathophysiology, and development of the auditory system. Recent research has determined the chromosomal map positions of 39 genes for dominant and recessive nonsyndromic deafness; of these, 9 genes have been identified (cloned). Dr. Friedman discussed the genetic mapping, identification, and characterization of DFNB3, a gene responsible for human recessive, congenital, profound deafness, and the functional cloning of shaker-2, the DFNB3 mouse model.
Brain and Language: A Comparative Approach
Elizabeth A. Bates, Ph.D., a cognitive neuroscientist, takes a cross-linguistic approach to language development, language processing, and language breakdown in aphasia. Dr. Bates, a professor of cognitive science, professor of psychology, and director of the Center for Research in Language at the University of California in San Diego, summarized a broad program of NIDCD-funded research that contradicts traditional ways of thinking about brain organization for language. For centuries, language was believed to be a fixed, special-purpose "organ" that is neatly localized in one or two well-defined parts of the left cerebral hemisphere. Dr. Bates discussed studies of patients with aphasia, children and adults with focal brain injury, and groups of different neurological populations; all of these studies seems to point to language as a plastic, broadly distributed, dynamic system that is organized in time as well as space.
Cochlear Implant Research: Past, Present, Future—Premises, Promises, and Realities
Bruce J. Gantz, M.D., head of the Department of Otolaryngology and Maxillofacial Surgery at the University of Iowa, presented an overview of clinical performance data related to cochlear implants. He also reviewed new technical developments in the field and discussed the rationale for broadening the application of electrical speech processing. Because the cochlear implant is the first manufactured device to successfully interface with the central nervous system, it has captured the attention of the lay public as well as scientists. Dr. Gantz described the most recent cochlear implant device to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration and discussed expanding the selection criteria for the implants to include infants and people with moderate to severe hearing impairment.
Looking Toward the Future
Dr. Battey noted that NIDCD is "forging forward with new teams, new tools, and new targets." The Institute, he says, "heads into the terra incognita of the new century with skilled scientists, taut tools, and tantalizing targets of exploration."