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NIDCD logo   National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders
Mission | Important Events | Director | Programs


The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) conducts and supports research and research training on disorders of hearing and other communication processes, including diseases affecting hearing, balance, smell, taste, voice, speech, and language through:

  • Research performed in its own laboratories and clinics

  • A program of research grants, individual and institutional research training awards, career development awards, center grants, and contracts to public and private research institutions and organizations

  • Cooperation and collaboration with professional, academic, commercial, voluntary, and philanthropic organizations concerned with research and training that is related to deafness and other communication disorders, disease prevention and health promotion, and the special biomedical and behavioral problems associated with people having communication impairments or disorders

  • The support of efforts to create devices which substitute for lost and impaired sensory and communication functions

  • Ongoing collection and dissemination of information to health professionals, patients, industry, and the public on research findings in these areas.

Important Events in NIDCD History

October 28, 1988 - Public Law 100-553 authorized the formation of the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

June 26, 1989 - The NIDCD Advisory Board held its first meeting.

September 18, 1989 - The Advisory Council of NIDCD convened for the first time.

February 11, 1990 - James B. Snow, Jr., M.D., was appointed as the first Director, NIDCD.

September 21, 1990 - The NIDCD established the Office of Administrative Branch, Financial Management Branch, Personnel Management Branch, and Program and Health Reports Branch.

December 5, 1990 - Division of Intramural Research established labs and branches within the division.

December 6, 1990 - The Information Systems Branch was created.

March 1, 1991 – The NIDCD information clearinghouse was established.

April 4, 1991 - The Board of Scientific Counselors of NIDCD held its first meeting.

November 19, 1991 - The Deafness and Other Communication Disorders Interagency Coordinating Committee met for the first time.

December 29, 1991 - David J. Lim, M.D., appointed as Scientific Director.

May 8, 1992 - NIDCD/American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery sponsored a live interactive satellite conference, "Warning! The Impact of Pollution on the Upper Alimentary and Respiratory Tracts," to inform scientists, physicians and the public about health problems associated with pollution and identify areas of needed research.

August 21, 1992 - NIDCD/Department of Veterans Affairs directors signed a Memorandum of Understanding which established a collaboration to expand and intensify hearing aid research and development.

October 23, 1992 - NIDCD/National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) established formal scientific collaboration to enhance basic knowledge and understanding of vestibular function in both clinical and normal states and provide investigators access to NASA's unique ground-based research facilities and to space flight.

March 1-3, 1993 - Consensus Development Conference, "Early Identification of Hearing Impairment in Infants and Young Children," evaluated current research and provided recommendations regarding hearing assessment from birth through 5 years of age.

October 25, 1993 - NIDCD fifth anniversary lecture, "A Celebration of Research in Human Communication," was given.

January 18, 1994 - The Division of Communication Sciences and Disorders established the Hearing and Balance/Vestibular Sciences Branch and the Voice, Speech, Language, Smell, and Taste Branch.

May 1994 - The NIDCD Advisory Board held its final meeting.

August 5, 1994 - The Division of Communication Sciences and Disorders was changed to the Division of Human Communication.

February 14, 1995 - "The Partnership Program" began, designed to maximize opportunities for underrepresented students to participate in fundamental and clinical research in the NIDCD research areas, with four academic centers: Morehouse School of Medicine; University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine; University of Alaska System, Fairbanks; and Gallaudet University.

March 1, 1995 – James F. Battey, Jr., M.D., Ph.D., was appointed as Director of the Division of Intramural Research.

May 15-17, 1995 - Consensus Development Conference, "Cochlear Implants in Adults and Children," to summarize current knowledge about the range of benefits and limitations of cochlear implantation.

September 11-13, 1995 - First biennial conference, "Advancing Human Communication: An Interdisciplinary Forum on Hearing Aid Research and Development," was held.

September 13, 1997 - James B. Snow, Jr., M.D., retires as the first Director, NIDCD. James F. Battey, Jr., M.D., Ph.D., becomes Acting Director of NIDCD.

September 22-24, 1997 - The second biennial hearing aid research and development conference took place.

February 10, 1998 – James F. Battey, Jr., M.D., Ph.D., appointed as the new Director, NIDCD.

March 13, 1998 - The NIDCD Working Group on Early Identification of Hearing Impairment's second workshop identified some research opportunities offered by neonatal hearing screening programs, specifically in diagnostic strategies for characterizing hearing impairment and in the intervention strategies for remediating hearing impairment.

August 13-14, 1998 - The Working Group on Single and Multiple Project Grants held its first meeting.

December 20, 1998 – Robert J. Wenthold, Ph.D., appointed as Scientific Director.

January - February 1999 - The NIDCD convened a group of distinguished scientists and members of the public to provide recommendations for a Strategic Plan.

May 25, 1999 - The NIDCD working group on "Communicating Informed Consent to Individuals Who Are Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing," met to clarify issues of informed consent, develop guidelines for use by scientists, and propose new, needed materials for improving communication about informed consent.

December 11, 2000 – NIDCD signs a Memorandum of Understanding with the Center for Comparative and Evolutionary Biology of Hearing, University of Maryland, College Park to establish a program for training graduate students in the hearing sciences.

March 22-23, 2001 – The Division of Intramural Research, NIDCD, has its first retreat at St. Michael's, Maryland with overview talks by principal investigators and posters by fellows and students.

May 24, 2001 – Dr. Battey announced the Institute's new logo at the May Council meeting.

September 2002 – Dr. Battey was appointed as Chair of the NIH Stem Cell Task Force by NIH Director Dr. Zerhouni.

October 21, 2002 – NIDCD First Health Literacy Lecture.

April 2003 – Nationwide outreach to Hispanic Latina/Latino Community

June 12, 2003 – Dr. Battey opens First NIH Symposium on Human Embryonic Stem Cells, Bethesda, MD

December 2003 – NIDCD celbrates WISE EARS!® 5th Anniversary; a coalition of more than 90 organization built to prevent noise-induced hearing loss in the public and the worker.

Biographical Sketch of NIDCD Director James F. Battey, Jr., M.D.

Dr. Battey became the new NIDCD director on February 10, 1998. He served as acting director since the retirement of the Institute's first director in September 1997. He is responsible for the planning, implementation and evaluation of Institute programs to conduct and support biomedical and behavioral research, research training, and public health information in human communication.

He received his education at the California Institute of Technology, where he earned his B.S. with honors in physics. He earned his M.D. and Ph.D. in biophysics at Stanford University where he had residency training in pediatrics. His postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard Medical School was under the direction of the eminent scientist, Dr. Philip Leder. While working with Dr. Leder, he was part of a team that cloned the genes encoding the IgE immunoglobulin constant region domains. In addition, he isolated and characterized the human c-myc gene, a key growth regulatory nuclear proto-oncogene that contributes to cancer formation when inappropriately expressed.

Dr. Battey has been with NIH since 1983, first on the staff of NCI where he rose from senior staff fellow to senior investigator. In his work at the NCI-Navy Medical Oncology Branch, he collaborated in the isolation and characterization of human N-myc and L-myc, two additional members of the human myc gene family, important in human neoplasms. He became interested in neuropeptides and their receptors at this time because of their dual function as growth factors and regulatory peptides. His group isolated cDNA and genomic clones for mammalian bombesin-like peptides, key regulators of secretion, growth and neuronal firing.

In 1988 he moved to NINDS as chief of the molecular neuroscience section in the Laboratory of Neurochemistry. In 1992 he returned to the NCI to head the molecular structure section of the Laboratory of Biological Chemistry where his laboratory cloned and characterized the genes for three subtypes of mammalian receptors for bombesin-like peptides. His team at NCI's Laboratory of Biological Chemistry was among the first to clone the gene encoding cdk5, a member of the cyclin-dependent kinase family, where important proteins are involved in cell cycle control. Dr. Battey was appointed as director of the Intramural Research Program for NIDCD in 1995 by Dr. Snow, the first NIDCD director. The PHS has honored him with its PHS Commendation Medal in 1990 and the Outstanding Service Medal in 1994. He is author or co-author of over 130 research articles and is co-author with Leonard Davis and Michael Kuehl of Basic Methods in Molecular Biology.

NIDCD Directors

In Office From
Jay Moskowitz (Acting) October 31, 1988 February 1990
James B. Snow, Jr. February 1990 September 13, 1997
James F. Battey, Jr. September 14, 1997  

Research Programs

Research programs at NIDCD are intended to improve methods of prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation of clinical problems of deafness and other communication disorders.

The Division of Intramural Research of NIDCD conducts basic and clinical research in human communication research, which is within the mission of the Institute. Research objectives include studies of electromechanical processes responsible for fine tuning in the cochlea; identification, characterization, and cloning of genes responsible for hereditary heraing impairment; electromotility of the outer hair cell; molecular bases of mechanosensory transduction mechanisms in the organ of Corti; molecular bases for G-protein signaling with emphasis on sensory signaling processes in the chemical senses; development of vaccines for otitis media; molecular mechanisms underlying the development and function of the mammalian olfactory system; mechanisms responsible for the development of the inner ear; identification, characterization and cloning of genes responsible for hereditary hearing impairment; molecular mechanisms underlying auditory system function with emphasis on neurotransmission and neuromodulation; identification of genes associated with neoplasms affecting human communication; identification of the genetic component of stuttering; neuroimaging of brain function in physiologic and pathophysiologic states; pathophysiology and etiology of voice and speech disorders; and epidemiological and biometric research studies of communication disorders.

The Division of Scientific Programs (DSP) of NIDCD is responsible for coordinating a broad range of activities and functions to assure sound and efficient management of NIDCD's extramural activites that include a program of research grants, career development awards, individual and institutional research training awards, center grants, and contracts to public and private research institutions and organizations.

The Division of Extramural Activities (DEA) plans and directs an integrated program of peer review and administrative/fiscal oversight of grants for research/research training in the scientific mission areas of NIDCD, and coordinates the Institute's policies for research grant/contract review and management.

The DER supports several major activities, including the management of grants and contract support for research and research training on the normal processes and disorders of hearing, balance, smell, taste, voice, speech and language so as to ensure maximum utilization of available resources in attaining Institute objectives.


The fields of cellular and molecular biology have furthered hearing research. A multitude of genes for syndromic and nonsyndromic forms of hearing impairment including autosomal dominant and recessive, X-linked and mitochondrial modes of transmission have been located in specific regions of the human genome. In addition, clinically relevant genes essential for normal auditory development and/or function are being identified and cloned at a rapid pace.

Other cochlear-specific genes have been isolated from enriched membranous labyrinth cDNA libraries. New technology, including the development of detailed maps of expressed sequence tags (EST) coupled with the use of inner ear specific cDNA libraries, exon trapping and cDNA library enrichment procedures, have facilitated gene cloning. Once cloned, the molecular biology of hearing and the role of particular proteins in the development and/or maintenance of the inner ear can be determined. Mouse models of hereditary hearing impairment have been instrumental in mapping and cloning many deafness genes. Because of the utility of the mouse for such studies, additional mouse models of deafness are being created through mutagenesis and screening programs as well as targeted mutation of deafness genes found in man. In addition, mouse models are being used to study the function of the proteins encoded by deafness genes and to test therapeutic approaches. These advances offer researchers many opportunities to study the characteristics of deafness, hereditary factors involved in hearing loss, and genes that are critical for the development and maintenance of the human ear. Great strides are being made in the study of properties of auditory sensory cells, and of characteristics of the response of the inner ear to sound.

Scientific advances have also been translated into cochlear implants, digital hearing aids, and tactile devices that provide information by stimulating the skin. Great strides are being made in the study of properties of auditory sensory cells, and of characteristics of the response of the inner ear to sound. Research has verified that despite substantial variability in the performance of children who have received cochlear implants, most demonstrate marked improvements in speech perception and production. Speech produced by children who use multichannel cochlear implants is usually more accurate than the speech produced by children with comparable hearing impairment using vibrotactile devices or hearing aids. Cochlear implants also positively influence children's receptive and expressive language skills. The longer children use their implants, the greater their language ability.

To achieve the most benefit from their implants, however, children generally need extensive oral-auditory training following implantation and also benefit from periodic audiological assessments. Cochlear implants have benefited children who are congenitally deaf as well as those who are postlingually deaf. The vast majority of adult implant recipients derive substantial benefit in conjunction with speechreadng, and many can communicate effectively without speechreading and are able to communicate by telephone. Dedication to research on cochlear implants throughout the world will improve the capabilities of current implant users and improve our understanding of the auditory system.

New insights have been gained concerning the encoding of complex signals transmitted from the auditory nerve to the brain. The relationship between the neural codes for sound intensity, frequency, duration and temporal characteristics of auditory signals and the perception of the stimulus variables has been further clarified. Valuable progress has been made in understanding the structure and function of efferent feedback pathways to the inner and middle ear. There is now good evidence that this system may aid in the detection of signals in noisy environments and serve to protect the ear from acoustic injury.

Gains have been made about the ways in which the brain creates maps of auditory space and how the maps interact with visual space. This research may have implications in treatment of children who acquire hearing loss in infancy or early childhood. Further, psychoacoustic and electrophysiologic studies of infants and children are providing important new insights into the development of functional hearing.

In the aging auditory system, discoveries have been made demonstrating changes in the regulation of fluid composition and autoregulation of cochlear blood flow which may underlie some of the biologic effects of aging on auditory function. Improved behavioral and electrophysiological techniques for measuring auditory function are providing more accurate assessments of the peripheral and central components of age-related hearing impairment.

Recent development of animal models for bacterial and viral infections hold promise for new diagnostic and therapeutic approaches to sensorineural hearing loss caused by infections. Antiviral drugs may find rapid application in the treatment for these conditions with the advent of suitable animal models in which to test efficacy. In addition, models will allow a greater understanding of why and to what degree infants and children are susceptible to ototoxic drugs used in the treatment of infections.

Otitis media continues to be a significant focus of research because of its prevalence and cost to society. Important risk factors have been identified. Studies of the eustachian tubes have provided new information on tubal mechanics, surfactant-like (fluid) substances and middle ear pressure regulation. The role of bacterial biofilms in chronic otitis media is a new and promising area of investigation. State-of-the-art molecular, genetic and genomic techniques are being used to identify genes that may predispose an individual to chronic otitis media. These techniques are also being used to define the specific molecular changes that allow viral and bacterial infection of the middle ear as well as the host/pathogen interactions that facilitate the disease process.


NIDCD supports research on balance and the vestibular system. Balance disorders affect a large proportion of the population, particularly the elderly. The vestibular system, with its receptor organs located in the inner ear, plays an important role in the maintenance of one's orientation in space, the control of balance while the body is immobile and in motion, and visual fixation of objects during head movement. Vestibular disorders can therefore yield symptoms of imbalance, vertigo (the illusion of motion), disorientation, instability, falling and visual blurring (particularly during motion). Deficits in vestibular function result from diverse disease processes, including infection, trauma, toxicity, impaired blood supply, autoimmune disease, impaired metabolic function and tumors.

In addition to its role in the stabilization of gaze and balance, recent findings from NIDCD-supported studies suggest that the vestibular system plays an important role in regulating blood pressure. The information emerging from these studies holds potential clinical relevance for the understanding and management of orthostatic hypotension (lowered blood pressure related to a change in body posture).

The linear acceleration detectors of the vestibular system, the otolithic organs, detect the forces produced by head tilt and by linear (forward-to-aft, side-to-side) head movements. How the vestibular apparatus and the nervous system resolve gravitational from linear accelerations in order to accurately perceive motion and control balance is currently under active study by NIDCD-supported investigators.

Investigations supported by the NIDCD are characterizing the genes essential to normal development and function in the vestibular system. The genetic bases of several inherited cerebellar syndromes of imbalance and incoordination are currently being investigated.

The institute supports research to develop and refine tests of balance and vestibular function. Computer-controlled systems measuring eye movement and body postural responses activated by stimulating specific parts of the vestibular sense organ and nerve have been developed and validated for clinical use. Also, tests of functional disability and physical rehabilitative strategies currently being applied in clinical and research settings will have important implications for refining the rehabilitation of patients with balance and vestibular disorders.

Recently, a prototype vestibular neural prosthesis has been developed by a team of NIDCD-funded investigators. Early-stage studies with this device demonstrates that the function of the inner ear balance system can be partially restored through electrostimulation of the vestibular nerve. Research is progressing in earnest to refine the vestibular prosthesis and to determine its viability for application to vestibular-deficient humans.

Smell and Taste

NIDCD investigators study the chemical senses of olfaction (smell) and gustation (taste) to enhance our understanding of how individuals communicate with their environment. Smell and taste play important roles in preferences and aversions for aromas, specific foods and flavors. Sweet-tasting substances are generally consumed and contribute to caloric intake; bitter-tasting substances are typically avoided because bitterness is often associated with toxic compounds that cause illness. The NIDCD is supporting research on the development of bitter-taste blockers in an effort to identify compounds that can mask the bitter taste of essential medications, especially for children.

Both the olfactory and gustatory systems offer special approaches for the understanding of the fundamental mechanisms of neural plasticity. NIDCD scientists have found that smell and taste receptor cells ordinarily replace themselves throughout life and have the capacity to replace themselves in response to injury. With every sneeze and with every burnt tongue from a hot cup of coffee, olfactory and taste receptor cells are destroyed and are then replaced. These are the only known mammalian sensory cells with this native regenerative capability, and the olfactory system is now used as a model system in multi-potent stem cell research. Unfortunately, the plasticity of the olfactory system declines with age, with important consequences to the increasingly aged population. The perceived quality of foods moves towards blandness in the elderly and this affects food intake, diet and overall nutrition and health status. Prevention of this age-related decline in olfactory sensitivity is being studied by NIDCD investigators.

Advances in molecular and cellular biology, biophysics and biochemistry of the olfactory and gustatory systems are paving the way for improved diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of chemosensory disorders. The vertebrate olfactory receptor neuron has become an important model system in molecular and cellular biology. The olfactory receptor gene family has been described in mammals and may contain as many as 1,000 olfactory receptor genes. NIDCD scientists are presently characterizing genetic mechanisms of olfaction, which will provide the opportunity to study the molecular pharmacology of the process of smell. More recently, a family of about 80 taste receptor genes has been identified by NIDCD investigators. Interestingly, both olfactory and taste receptors are structurally similar and activate similar second messenger signal transduction cascades which ultimately generates neural activity in the central nervous system. The characterization of these receptors was greatly facilitated by the genetic database provided by the NIH's human and mouse genome projects.

The molecular biological studies of olfactory and taste receptor cells have provided essential information about the sensitivities of the chemical senses at the first level of neural integration. The coding of odorants and tastants by the central nervous system begins at the level of the receptor cell. In addition, in both the olfactory and gustatory systems, odor and taste quality coding is a further refined by a synthetic process of the central nervous system. NIDCD-funded projects are examining the nature of the central coding. In the olfactory system, odor coding appears very complex because of the numerous types of odors that must be detected and because of the complicated neuroanatomical organization of the olfactory system. We are just beginning to understand the nature of the olfactory code. On the other hand, in the taste system, significant progress has been made in our understanding of how the four taste qualities of sweet, salty, sour, and bitter are coded centrally. Recent work suggests a fifth taste quality, umami, which is familiar to many as the taste of monosodium glutamate (MSG). The nature of the gustatory code and the high degree of central processing makes the gustatory system very resistant to damage. Consequently, the taste system is not as adversely affected by aging as is the olfactory system.

Voice, Speech and Language

Studies of voice and speech disorders focus on determining the nature, causes, treatment and prevention of disorders such as stuttering, speech-sound acquisition disorders, and motor speech disorders. Oral speech communication may not be a realistic option for individuals with severe dysarthria. Substantial progress has been made in the development of augmentative communication devices to facilitate the expressive communication of persons with severe communication disabilities. An investigation of conversational performance by augmentative communicative device users is in progress. Other funded research evaluates whether a low-cost, laser-activated keyboard for accessing personal computers is feasible. By providing access to computers, individuals with disabilities can immediately use personal computer software programs and speech synthesizers for augmentative communication.

Language research continues to expand the understanding of the role of each hemisphere of the brain in communication and language, of early specialization of the brain, and of the recovery process following brain damage. This research is intended to further understanding of the neural bases of language disorders. Research on acquisition, characterization and utilization of American Sign Language is expanding knowledge of the language used by many people who are deaf.

Language researchers supported by NIDCD are also exploring the genetic bases of child language disorders, characterizing the linguistic and cognitive deficits in these children, and developing effective diagnostic and intervention strategies. For example, NIDCD is supporting projects to develop language tests for non-standard English, specifically for children who speak black English and for bilingual Hispanic children. Such tests will be used to differentiate between language impairment and normal language development, a significant clinical problem, given that currently available measures were designed for identifying speech and language disorders in Standard English speakers.

This page was last reviewed on June 21, 2005 .

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