UCL Ear Institute


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History of the Ear Institute

UCL Ear Institute came into being on the 1st of January 2005.


In 2000 an £11m Joint Infrastructure Fund grant from the Wellcome Foundation was awarded to build a Centre for Auditory Research to bring together auditory research scientists and clinicians from across UCL. The new centre was a companion to the long standing Institute of Laryngology and Otology (ILO) and its incorporated School of Audiology. This cross faculty, multidisciplinary group needed a new, unifying identity so the ILO was disestablished and the Ear Institute created. Prof David McAlpine became the new Director of the Ear Institute in June 2006, taking over from Prof Tony Wright.


After the Second World War the Post Graduate Medical Institutes were established to undertake the specialist training and research that had lapsed during the long War years.  Each Institute was allied to its own specialist hospital such as the Institute of Neurology and the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases and the Institute of Child Health and the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children.

The Institute of Laryngology and Otology

The Institute of Laryngology and Otology was founded in 1947 and was allied to the Royal National Throat Nose and Ear Hospital.  The collaboration between the scientists and the clinicians resulted in many outstanding achievements over the years with most recently Prof Forge (along with Prof Corwin form the University of Virginia) discovering that mammalian vestibular sensory cells could regenerate and  in 1998, Prof Kemp being presented with the Queen’s Award for Technology for his work on predicting then discovering and developing the technology to record otoacoustic emissions.

School of Audiology

In 1948 the School of Audiology was set up and funded by the Department of Health to train, to teach and develop audiology services in the UK and Commonwealth.  This it did with enthusiasm and success and schools of audiology were developed in Hong Kong, Uganda and latterly in Spain..  Somehow, the School of Audiology became merged with the Institute of Laryngology and Otology and eventually became an integral part of it.  As vocational training attitudes altered so the School of Audiology changed and introduced an MSc and then the BSc in Audiology

Postgraduate medical institutes

The postgraduate medical institutes were funded by the British Postgraduate Medical Federation which was part of the University of London.  In 1987 it was decided to move the administration of three of the smaller Institutes - Urology, Orthopaedics and Laryngology and Otology to UCL.  What had been post graduate medical institutions now became university departments with quite different priorities and funding streams.  This caused very painful adjustments at Urology and Orthopaedics but with the range of activities at the Institute of Laryngology and Otology - the short medical courses, the funded  MSc and PhD degrees and the research, and with the associated Royal National Throat Nose and Ear Hospital (RNTNEH) agreeing to contribute to the Clinical Academics pay, the storm could just be weathered.


The Royal National Institute for Deaf People was located in Gower Street and a policy decision was made to move to a more suitable, modern building.  Relocating the very extensive library was not part of those plans and in 1995, Prof Wright who was Director of the Institute of Laryngology and Otology negotiated the transfer of the library, its staff and support funding, so that the library at the Institute now houses a collection of ENT, Head and Neck, Speech and Language and Deafness works along with a stunning Historical collection that is the largest in Europe.

The Ferens

A sister institute, the Ferens, existed in the Middlesex Hospital and as the hospital was being closed down in 1997 so Prof Wright, managed the merger of the Ferens along with the transfer of its Research Unit and the valuable collections of temporal bone sections - The Ferens and the Hallpike collections. These collections are now merged with the collection established by Prof Friedmann and subsequently Prof Michaels the two former professors of ENT Pathology.

An institute is born

However,  the physical state of the old Institute was inadequate for contemporary research and teaching and at the time UCL had scattered across various faculties and buildings the best collection of hearing and hearing related scientists in the country - if not the world. 1998  Profs Wright, Forge and Kemp drew up outline plans to create a new building  which was to be a centre for auditory research housing the hearing related scientists in a purpose built facility.

Six others -  Prof  Jonathan Ashmore, Dr Maria Bitner-Glindzicz, Dr Sally Dawson, Dr Jonathan Gale, Prof Alf Linney and Prof David McAlpine - collaborated in writing the grant applications for a Wellcome Trust Joint Infrastructure Fund Bid.

An award of £10.98m was finally made and the new building opened in January 2005.

At the same time a new Institute - UCL Ear Institute - was created by the Council of UCL as the old Institute of Laryngology and Otology was disestablished.  Prof Tony Wright continued to be the acting Director of the Ear Institute until the appointment of Prof David McAlpine in June 2006. The Ear Institute is now firmly established in the new Faculty of Biomedical Sciences at UCL.

In partnership with the RNTNEH, the Ear Institute now constitutes the largest single grouping of basic and clinical scientists interested in hearing and deafness in the UK.


Page last modified on 14 oct 13 11:47