The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) is nurturing a new generation of audiologist-investigators by providing grant support. Both AuD- and PhD-trained audiologists may compete for NIDCD grants to develop a career trajectory in patient-oriented research.
Two ASHA members are beneficiaries of that support, having recently received five-year New Investigator R01 grants to pursue their research programs.
Peggy Nelson, an associate professor in the Department of Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences at the University of Minnesota (Minneapolis–St. Paul), will use the grant to pursue her research on the effects of background noise with continual frequency changes—such as in restaurants or traffic—on speech understanding. Gaps and frequency glides in speech are a significant problem in background noise. The research could lead to improvements in hearing aids.
"We're hopeful there will be some useful clinical information as well as an understanding of what happens when the cochlea is damaged," Nelson said. Her previous research suggests that listeners without hearing loss can take advantage of masking release—the instant in which there's no noise—but that people with hearing loss cannot.
Nelson's interest in clinical research originally led her to earn a PhD in the psychophysics of hearing loss. NIDCD previously awarded her the Mentored Clinician-Scientist Development Award (K08) and a Small Grant (R03). She also has received research support from Gallaudet University and the University of Maryland.
Jill Firszt will use her R01 grant to study individuals who have asymmetrical hearing loss. Firszt is an associate professor in the Department of Otolaryngology and director of the Cochlear Implant Program and Electrophysiology Lab at the Washington University School of Medicine (St. Louis). She is also adjunct associate professor in the Program in Audiology and Communication Sciences at Washington University.
Firszt will work with three different patient populations who have deafness in one ear but have differences in their better-hearing ear. In one group, patients have normal hearing in one ear; a second group has moderate hearing loss; the third group has profound hearing loss but will have received one cochlear implant. More research is needed in understanding the benefits of a second cochlear implant, she said.
"Is there a time window beyond which if you don't get the second implant, it would not be beneficial? What is the expectation when an adult or child initially hears with that second implant?" she said. Longitudinal studies can provide information about performance that will allow better counseling for implant patients both before and after receiving a second device.
In the group of patients who have normal hearing in one ear and are deaf in the other, Firszt wants to research the outcomes and how the auditory cortex reorganizes, specifically if that reorganization has any association with behavioral outcomes.
Grants from smaller organizations—the Deafness Research Foundation and the American Hearing Research Foundation—helped Firszt get her research career as a PhD off the ground. Prior to receiving the NIDCD R01 grant, Firszt received an NIDCD K23 Mentored-Patient-Oriented Research Career Award and a Clinical and Translational Science Award from the Washington University Institute of Clinical and Translational Sciences.
A notice published June 3 in the NIH Guide reviews opportunities for audiologists from the NIDCD. For more information, go to the NIDCD Web site.