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   Hearing and Speech Research at the NIDCD
Debara L. Tucci
From my position as director of the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH; Bethesda, MD), I am proud to lead an outstanding group of scientists and administrators who share my passion for scientific discov- ery and advancing public health in three program areas: hearing and balance; taste and smell; and voice, speech, and language. Our broad research portfolio of basic, trans- lational, clinical, and public health research focuses on human communication and associated disorders.
At least 46 million people in the United States have a hear- ing or other communication disorder. I have dedicated my career to understanding the causes and impact of hear- ing loss and to developing treatments to restore hearing. Over my many years of clinical practice as an otolaryn- gologist surgeon-scientist, including more than 25 years at Duke University Medical Center (Durham, NC) where I cofounded the Duke Hearing Center and directed the medi- cal center’s cochlear implant program, I was privileged to care for and help many individuals with ear, hearing, and balance problems. I was also frustrated that our scientific understanding was insufficient to successfully treat every patient I encountered. As NIDCD director, it is gratifying to me to now guide the institute’s exceptional biomedical workforce. I truly believe the research funded by our insti- tute will continue to improve many lives in meaningful ways.
NIDCD: Three Decades of Discovery and Advancement
Over its 32-year history (available at, NIDCD-supported researchers have made seminal
advances in understanding the basic biology of sensory systems and disease mechanisms leading to increasingly effective, evidence-based treatments. Extraordinary research opportunities have led to scientific break- throughs in the study of genes, proteins, cellular and molecular processes, neural circuits, and sensory and motor systems that directly affect our understanding
of communication disorders. Current NIDCD-funded research promises to advance science in ways that directly impact patient care. Some examples include
• developing improved treatments for otitis media (middle ear infections);
• identifying and characterizing genes responsible for hereditary hearing impairment;
• studying genes associated with tumors affecting human communication;
• investigating gene therapy for treating hearing loss and dizziness;
• exploringthegeneticbasesofchildlanguagedisorders as well as characterizing the linguistic and cognitive deficits in children and adults with language disorders;
• identifying biomedical and behavioral issues associ- ated with communication impairment and disorders;
• researching improvements to assistive device technol- ogy that benefits those with hearing loss; and
• engineering a “thoughts into speech” algorithm for assistive communication devices to help people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, stroke, or neurodegen- erative disease regain their ability to communicate.
NIDCD research has informed a practice that many now recognize as routine, universal newborn hearing screenings, and has supported research that helps us better understand the role taste and smell play in nutrition and health. Our national education campaign, “It’s A Noisy Planet. Protect Their Hearing.”® (available at, has educated millions of teens, parents, and teachers about noise-induced hearing loss and how to prevent it. And our commitment to research that improves access to affordable hearing health care will help many Americans with hearing loss who could benefit from assistive hearing devices, such as hearing aids, but currently can’t afford them.
NIDCD Budget and Spending Overview
For fiscal year (FY) 2020, Congress appropriated approximately $491 million to the NIDCD. This appro- priation represents about 1.2% of NIH’s total budget
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