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New £9m London research centre to reverse deafness

Publication date: Mar 21, 2006 12:32:56 PM

On Thursday 20th February, UCL will take the first step in creating a unique new London-based centre for auditory research whose central mission will be to restore hearing to the deaf and to prevent deafness in those at risk - conditions which affect over eight million people, making it the second most common disability in the UK.

The centre will be the largest auditory research centre in the UK and will carry out cutting-edge collaborative research into disorders of hearing and balance. It is being funded by a £9m Joint Infrastructure Fund (JIF) award from the Wellcome Trust and will be based next to the Royal National Throat Nose and Ear Hospital on Gray’s Inn Road in London and will work closely with the hospital, enabling the fast and easy transfer of research into clinical practice.

Bringing together a unique group of the UK’s best auditory research teams, it will take a fully interdisciplinary approach to try and understand exactly how the ear works and how it goes wrong. The approaches used will be molecular, genetic, neuroscientific, biophysical and psychophysical – studying the auditory system as a whole from the molecular level up to the functioning of the auditory neural system as a whole. This will be the first time all of these techniques have been brought together in one place in the UK, creating a centre with the critical size and range of skills needed to properly investigate and to understand the workings of the whole auditory system..

Professor Andrew Forge (UCL), one of the researchers who will be based in the new centre, said: “We really think this new centre will be able to make a big difference to people with hearing problems. Our mission is to try and understand the ear from every angle – the molecular, the mechanical, and how everything fits together. There’s a good chance that in the near future we could begin to restore hearing to the deaf and to prevent it in those who are at risk.”

When building work is completed in March 2004 the centre will house state-of-the-art laboratories and provide:

  • improved techniques and tools for the precise diagnosis and clinical characterisation of hearing loss from different causes;
  • devices to ameliorate hearing impairment tailored to overcome specific pathologies;
  • possibilities for biological interventions as therapies to treat or prevent deafness and balance disorders;
  • clinical procedures for delivery of treatments for hearing loss.

Dr Jonathan Gale (UCL) said: “Deafness is the second most common disability in the UK, directly affecting about eight million people, so basic research into the mechanisms of hearing has clear scientific, medical and social value.”

PHOTO OPPORTUNITY: The foundation plaque will be unveiled at a ceremony on Thursday, 20th February 2003 at 11.30am by Sir Derek Roberts (Provost of UCL) and Pam Chesters (Chair, Royal Free Hampstead NHS Trust). Call UCL Media Relations if you would like to attend.