National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)


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

  • Research performed in its own laboratories and clinics.
  • A program of research grants, cooperative agreements, individual and institutional research training awards, career development awards, center grants, conference 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 biomedical and behavioral issues associated with communication impairments or disorders.
  • The support of efforts to create devices that 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 authorizes the formation of the NIDCD. Jay Moskowitz, Ph.D., is named acting director.

January 17-19, 1989 — A task force of more than 100 scientific experts meets to develop the first NIDCD National Strategic Research Plan (NSRP).

February 15, 1989 — The secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) establishes the National Deafness and Other Communication Disorders Advisory Council. The Advisory Council advises the HHS secretary, the NIH director, and the NIDCD director on matters relating to the conduct and support of research and research training, health information dissemination, and other programs with respect to disorders of hearing and other communication processes. The Advisory Council convenes for the first time on September 18, 1989.

February 11, 1990 — James B. Snow, Jr., M.D., is appointed the first director of the NIDCD.

December 5, 1990 — The NIDCD establishes its Division of Intramural Research.

January 25, 1991 — The NIH director establishes the NIDCD Board of Scientific Counselors to advise the director of the NIDCD Division of Intramural Research, through periodic reviews, on the quality of the intramural research programs and the research of the division’s tenured and tenure-track scientists.

April 4, 1991 — The Deafness and Other Communication Disorders Interagency Coordinating Committee (ICC) is established to foster collaboration among federal agencies and facilitate the sharing of information on their efforts in the field of deafness and other communication disorders.

December 29, 1991 — David J. Lim, M.D., is appointed scientific director of the NIDCD.

May 8, 1992 — The NIDCD and the American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery sponsor 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 to identify areas of needed research.

August 21, 1992 — The NIDCD and the Department of Veterans Affairs directors sign a memorandum of understanding establishing a collaboration to expand and intensify hearing aid research and development.

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

March 1-3, 1993 — The NIH holds a landmark consensus development conference, Early Identification of Hearing Impairment in Infants and Young Children, to evaluate current research and provide recommendations regarding hearing assessment from birth through age five. The recommendations emphasize the importance of early interventions and cost-effective methods for universal screening. These methods had been developed by NIDCD-supported researchers.

October 25, 1993 — The NIDCD commemorates its fifth anniversary, A Celebration of Research in Human Communication.

February 14, 1995 — The Partnership Program is established to maximize opportunities for underrepresented students to participate in fundamental and clinical research in the NIDCD’s research areas. Four academic centers participate: Morehouse School of Medicine; University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine; University of Alaska System, Fairbanks; and Gallaudet University.

March 1995 — NIDCD scientists identify the first gene associated with type 1 Usher syndrome, a condition that causes progressive blindness and profound loss of hearing and balance. By 2013, at least ten additional Usher syndrome genes had been identified.

March 1, 1995 — James F. Battey, Jr., M.D., Ph.D., is appointed scientific director of the NIDCD.

May 15-17, 1995 — The NIH Consensus Development Conference on Cochlear Implants in Adults and Children summarizes current knowledge about the 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, is held.

September 4-5, 1997 — The NIDCD Working Group on Early Identification of Hearing Impairment holds its first workshop and makes recommendations on acceptable protocols for use in state-wide Universal Newborn Hearing Screening Programs.

September 13, 1997 — James B. Snow, Jr., M.D., retires as the first director of the NIDCD. James F. Battey, Jr., M.D., Ph.D., becomes acting director of the NIDCD.

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

February 10, 1998 — James F. Battey, Jr., M.D., Ph.D., is appointed director of the NIDCD.

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

December 1998 — The NIDCD launches WISE EARS!®, a national public education campaign to prevent noise-induced hearing loss. The campaign is a coordinated effort among the NIDCD, the National Institute on Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and a coalition of other organizations.

December 8, 1998 — The NIDCD Working Group for Developing and Implementing Genetic Diagnostic Tests for Hereditary Hearing Impairment and Other Communication Disorders recommends establishing a consortium of investigators studying genes in communication disorders to establish guidelines on genetic testing.

December 20, 1998 — Robert J. Wenthold, Ph.D., is appointed scientific director of the NIDCD.

February 1999 — Scientists from the NIDCD, the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), and Howard Hughes Medical Institute collaborate to identify a group of G-protein receptors responsible for taste perception. The identification of specific taste receptors sets the stage for mapping how the sense of taste is “wired” from the mouth to the brain, and holds promise for the development of sugar or salt substitutes that may help combat obesity or hypertension, as well as the development of bitter blockers that could make life-saving medicines more acceptable to children.

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

June 21-22, 1999 — The NIDCD and the Life Sciences Division of NASA co-sponsor a planning workshop, "Role of Transgenic and Knockout Studies in Understanding Sensory-Motor Performance in Altered Gravitational Environments." Participants explore the viability of studying the effects of altered gravitational exposure on sensory-motor function in genetically altered experimental model systems.

2000 — The NIDCD creates Hearing Health Objectives to improve the hearing health of the nation through prevention, early detection, treatment, and rehabilitation. The objectives are tracked in the joint Vision and Hearing Chapter of the Healthy People 2010 initiative.

2000 — In addition to the NIDCD’s longstanding Small Grant program for early stage investigators (established in 1990), the NIDCD initiates three additional programs to facilitate and strengthen the researcher pipeline: a predoctoral fellowship program, an NIDCD expedited review and award process for predoctoral and postdoctoral fellowships, and the NDCD Advisory Council’s New Investigator Letter process to formalize special consideration of early stage investigators during Council funding recommendations.

January 2000 — The NIDCD joins with the National Eye Institute to sponsor a new national planning focus area for Vision and Hearing to establish baseline information and track trends towards achieving Healthy People 2010 goals.

September 19, 2000 — The third workshop of the NIDCD Working Group on Early Identification of Hearing Impairment identifies critical research needs in this area.

November 29-30, 2000 — The NIDCD sponsors a workshop, Otitis Media: New Approaches for Analysis, Treatment, and Prevention, to report on the state of the art of ear infection research and to make recommendations regarding potential approaches for analysis, intervention, and prevention of otitis media.

December 11, 2000 — The 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.

July 23, 2001 — The NIDCD working group on Communicating the Need for Follow-Up to Improve Outcomes of Newborn Hearing Screenings convenes to examine and develop recommendations for health care professionals on working with parents of infants after an initial assessment of hearing loss.

August 1, 2001 — The NIDCD Auditory/Stem Cell Workshop identifies potential areas of the auditory and vestibular systems as candidates for the application of regenerative medicine, including the potential use of stem cell biology.

March 19-20, 2002 — The NIDCD Workshop on Congenital Cytomegalovirus Infection (CMV) and Hearing Loss convenes to present current research in congenital CMV infection and hearing loss; to better determine the degree to which congenital CMV infection contributes to hearing loss in children; and to discuss recommendations for future research.

May 13, 2002 — The NIDCD workshop on The Role of Neuroimaging in the Study of Aphasia Recovery and Rehabilitation: Research Needs and Opportunities identifies research opportunities for the application of neuroimaging methods to the study of aphasia recovery and rehabilitation; identifies and addresses particular methodological challenges of imaging research focusing on aphasia recovery and rehabilitation; and develops strategies to encourage collaboration among researchers with expertise in functional neuroimaging, language processing, and aphasia rehabilitation.

August 22, 2002 — The Auditory/Vestibular Cell Lineage and Development Workshop explores the present and future state of cell lineage and development research in auditory and vestibular systems.

September 2002 — Dr. Battey is appointed chair of the NIH Stem Cell Task Force by NIH Director Dr. Elias Zerhouni.

October 21, 2002 — The NIDCD hosts the first NIH lecture on health literacy, “Babel Babble: What Is the Doctor Saying? What Is the Patient Understanding?” for health communication professionals who develop health materials and communication strategies.

September 12, 2003 — The NIDCD convenes the "Human Temporal Bone Research Workshop: Laboratory and Training Support" to identify funding issues and to develop recommendations for sustaining human temporal bone research laboratories and for training researchers.

April 27-28, 2004 — The NIDCD sponsors the Translational Research (TR) in Hearing and Balance Workshop to identify barriers to and opportunities in translational research and to articulate activities that could be initiated by the NIDCD to increase the translation of scientific accomplishments from the laboratory to impact clinical practice and public health.

April 30-May 2, 2004 — The NIDCD and the NIH Office of Rare Diseases co-sponsor a workshop on Universal Reporting Parameters for the Speech of Individuals with Cleft Palate to further develop and refine a common approach in describing and reporting clinical speech outcomes of individuals born with cleft palate, regardless of the language spoken by the individual.

June 3-4, 2004 — The NIDCD sponsors the Electrical Stimulation of the Vestibular Nerve Workshop to identify opportunities for the development of a neural prosthesis to electrically stimulate the portion of the eighth nerve that carries signals from the vestibular endorgan. Participants identify clinical populations that would benefit from studies with a device similar to the cochlear implant but modified to address balance disorders.

October 2004 — NIDCD-funded investigator Dr. Linda Buck wins the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for clarifying how the olfactory (sense of smell) system works on molecular and cellular levels.

March 29-30, 2005 — The NIDCD sponsors a workshop on the Epidemiology of Communication Disorders to report on current epidemiologic knowledge in the field; suggest ways to encourage more epidemiologic research; describe the importance of population-based research studies for understanding the burden of communication disorders in society; and recommend priority research topics.

May 21-23, 2005 — The NIDCD holds "State of the Science Conference: Developmental Stuttering" to enable cross-disciplinary discussion that will help to focus NIDCD initiatives for stuttering research and treatment.

June 23-24, 2005 — The NIDCD co-sponsors the first Workshop on Spasmodic Dysphonia Research to develop a roadmap for studies on this rare brain disorder, which affects the muscles in the larynx (voice box).

September 7, 2005 — The NIDCD holds a workshop on Molecular Therapies for Auditory/Vestibular Disease to discuss the current and future state of molecular therapy development in auditory and vestibular disease. The purpose of the workshop is to discuss and identify research opportunities that will advance and translate targeted molecular approaches into clinical treatments.

December 5-6, 2005 — The NIDCD Tinnitus Research Workshop brings together basic and clinical researchers studying central mechanisms and treatments in tinnitus with scientists who do relevant research outside the field of tinnitus.

May 26-27, 2006 — The NIDCD and the NIH Office of Rare Diseases sponsor a workshop to evaluate the potential for brain-computer interfaces (BCI) to assist individuals who are “locked in” by providing a means for speech synthesis and control of other forms of assistive communication technology.

October 19-20, 2006 — The NIDCD, the National Hearing Conservation Association (NHCA), the Marion Downs Hearing Center (MDHC), the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), and the University of Northern Colorado (UNC) co-sponsor a workshop in Cincinnati on Noise-Induced Hearing Loss in Children at Work and Play. The workshop convenes researchers, hearing health professionals, teachers, and advocacy groups to explore ways to prevent noise-induced hearing loss.

December 12-13, 2006 — The NIDCD sponsors a workshop on Outcomes Research in Children with Hearing Loss to determine and prioritize research needs and discuss design considerations unique to outcomes research in children with hearing loss.

May 9-10, 2007 — The NIDCD sponsors a workshop, Clinical Research/Clinical Trials in Otology: Setting the Research Agenda for Development of an Intervention, to encourage multidisciplinary research towards the development of evidence-based treatments for otologic conditions, and to prioritize otologic conditions for which intervention-oriented research may be ready.

July 22-23, 2008 — The NIDCD Workshop on Immune Mediated Ear Disease/Hearing Loss meets to obtain updates on the current status of immune mediated ear disease research; to identify research gaps; and to develop expert recommendations on research needs that will aid our understanding of this complex form of hearing loss and ultimately lead to diagnostics and therapies that preserve hearing.

September 23, 2008 — The NIDCD Workshop on Exploring International Collaborative Research in Deafness and Other Communication Disorders meets to discuss international research collaboration and to stress the need to educate researchers and reviewers about opportunities for scientific discovery through international collaborative research.

October 2008 — The NIDCD launches a new public education campaign called It's a Noisy Planet. Protect Their Hearing®. The Noisy Planet campaign is designed to increase awareness among parents of children ages 8 to 12 about the causes and prevention of noise-induced hearing loss.

October 23, 2008 — The NIDCD celebrates two decades of research accomplishments with a one-day symposium. The symposium includes three scientific sessions representing the NIDCD's primary areas of research: hearing and balance; taste and smell; and voice, speech, and language.

August 13-14, 2009 — The NIDCD holds a scientific workshop, Brain Stimulation for Treatment of Tinnitus, to identify promising avenues of research using neural prosthesis to treat tinnitus. Subsequent grants explore vagus nerve and deep brain stimulation techniques to change the functional organization of neural circuits that appear to be involved in tinnitus.

April 1, 2009 — Andrew J. Griffith, M.D., Ph.D., is appointed scientific director of the NIDCD.

August 25-27, 2009 — The NIDCD sponsors a working group on Accessible and Affordable Hearing Health Care for Adults with Mild to Moderate Hearing Loss to develop a research agenda to increase accessibility and affordability of hearing health care for adults, including services and devices.

December 2009 — NIDCD-funded researchers discover gene KIAA0319, associated with specific language impairment (SLI), a language disorder that affects seven percent of 5- to 6-year-old children. The NIDCD has a long history of funding research related to SLI, including a large epidemiologic study to establish the incidence of the disorder, the development of assessment tools to identify SLI in children who are bilingual, studies to show the possible neural bases of the disorder, and the development of treatment/learning strategies to address language deficits.

2010 — The NIDCD expands the Hearing Health Objectives of Healthy People 2010 to include all mission areas of the NIDCD. The new chapter in Healthy People 2020 is called, "Hearing and Other Sensory or Communication Disorders(link is external)."

February 2010 — Researchers discover the first genes associated with stuttering, opening doors for medical treatment.

April 13-14, 2010 — The NIDCD sponsors a workshop on nonverbal school-aged children with autism to address clinical needs and research opportunities.

May 2010 — NIDCD researchers develop a system for making functional sensory hair cells from stem cells in the laboratory.

May 10, 2010 — The NIDCD holds its first Robert J. Wenthold Memorial Lecture, to be sponsored each year in honor of NIDCD’s late longtime scientific director.

October 2010 — Employing technology used in cochlear implants, researchers implant the first vestibular device to stop the severe vertigo associated with Ménière's disease, which affects 600,000 people per year in the U.S. The device attempts to stop a Ménière's attack by restoring a stable pattern of electrical activity in the vestibular nerve of the damaged ear.

December 2010 —NIDCD epidemiologists publish evidence from nationally representative U.S. health exams showing that hearing in the U.S. population has improved compared to 40 years ago. The comparisons show improved hearing thresholds in the high frequency range, 3 to 6 kHz, suggesting a reduction of loud and very loud noise exposures that adversely affect these frequencies.

June 2011 — NIDCD-funded scientists establish that an easy saliva test reliably identifies cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection in infants, providing a faster and cheaper diagnostic option than the standard method. CMV is the most common infection passed from mother to baby and is a leading cause of hearing loss in children.

September 14, 2011 — The NIDCD sponsors a workshop on future needs and research opportunities regarding regenerative and restorative therapies for hearing and balance deficiencies.

December 2011 — NIDCD-supported researchers report that as early as six months into life, babies who eat salty foods are more likely to develop a preference for salty taste that lasts into the preschool years, and possibly beyond.

February 2012 — The NIDCD redesigns its Strategic Plan for Research, including expanding from a 3-year plan to a 5-year plan, and holding workshops with experts in each scientific mission area (hearing and balance; taste and smell; and voice, speech, and language) to identify areas of emerging opportunity. The revised 2012-2016 Strategic Plan includes expanded efforts to translate research discoveries into clinical practice.

June 14, 2012 — The NIDCD Workshop on Motion Perception and Balance Disorders reviews mechanisms of human motion perception and misperceptions that lead to spatial discomfort and disorientation and disorders of balance. New approaches that could improve clinical management of balance disorders are also discussed.

August 29, 2012 — The NIDCD organizes a workshop, Moving the NIDCD Research Training Program Forward in Fiscally Constrained Times, to address the role of the NIDCD in supporting individual and institutional National Research Service Awards (NRSAs) in the disciplines within the NIDCD’s scientific mission.

November 2012 — The NIDCD begins supporting the first Autism Center of Excellence (ACE) to focus on minimally verbal children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The NIDCD has long been engaged in supporting research in this aspect of ASD and was one of five institutes to support six STAART (Studies to Advance Autism Research and Treatment) Centers in 1993.

January 10, 2013 — Continued investment in regenerative sensory hair cell research leads NIDCD-supported scientists to grow new sensory hair cells in the inner ear of a mouse. The discovery could potentially lead to future treatments to reverse some types of human hearing loss.

February 20, 2013 — NIDCD-supported researchers uncover the neurological basis of speech motor control, the complex coordinated activity of tiny brain regions that controls our lips, jaw, tongue, and larynx as we speak. The work has potential implications for developing brain-computer interfaces for artificial speech communication and for the treatment of speech disorders.

March 6, 2013 — NIDCD-funded scientists identify CALHM1, a channel in the walls of taste receptor cells, as a critical component in the process of sweet, bitter, and umami (savory) taste perception.

May 6, 2013 — NIDCD-supported researchers report that the Ggamma13 protein, found in olfactory neurons, is critical for mice to smell. The findings may lend insight into the underlying causes of certain smell disorders in humans.

June 11, 2013 — A team of NIH-supported researchers identifies, in mice, an unexpected two-step process that happens during the growth and regeneration of inner ear tip links. The discovery offers a possible mechanism for potential interventions that could preserve hearing in people whose hearing loss is caused by genetic disorders related to tip link dysfunction.

June 13, 2013 — NIDCD-funded researchers demonstrate that a nanotechnology-based sensor can reliably differentiate melanoma cells from normal skin cells based on odors from human skin cells. The findings suggest that non-invasive odor analysis may be a valuable technique in the detection and early diagnosis of human melanoma.

June 17, 2013 — NIDCD-supported scientists discover that brain regions tailored to respond to voices are poorly connected to reward-processing circuits in children with autism. The research could help explain why children with autism struggle to grasp the social and emotional aspects of human speech.

July 18, 2013 — The Pediatric HIV/AIDS Cohort Study, a multicenter NIH research network, reports that combinations of anti-HIV drugs given to pregnant women do not appear to increase the children’s risk for language delay. The findings alleviate concerns in the medical community that the drug combinations could affect the developing fetal brain in ways that cause language delays.

July 18, 2013 — NIDCD-funded researchers identify two inner ear proteins that are critical to hearing, and that may be components of the sensory transduction channel necessary for both hearing and balance. When certain genetic mutations harm these proteins, a type of delayed, progressive hearing loss may result.

July 25, 2013 — NIDCD researchers find that supporting cells in the mouse inner ear, once thought to serve only a structural role, can actively help repair damaged sensory hair cells, the functional cells that turn vibrations into the electrical signals that the brain recognizes as sound.

August 2013 — The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) is a nationally representative health survey in the U.S. from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The survey will now include taste and smell measures, due to support from the NIDCD. By adding tests that measure taste and smell function to the nutritional information NHANES already collects, epidemiologists and biomedical researchers will be able to take a closer look at the role of taste and smell in nutrition and health.

August 23, 2013 — The NIDCD launches a major five-year, FDA-approved clinical trial of the auditory brainstem implant (ABI) in children who do not have neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF2). The goal of the study is to establish the safety of both the ABI and the delicate brain surgery procedures required for its successful implantation.

September 6, 2013 — NIDCD and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) researchers find that hearing loss and dual sensory impairment (vision and hearing loss combined) in older men are associated with increased mortality from cardiovascular disease and other causes.

September 20, 2013 — Scientists Graeme M. Clark of the University of Melbourne and Blake S. Wilson of the Research Triangle Institute, who have received research funding through the NIDCD, are honored with the Lasker-Debakey Award in Clinical Medical Research for their contributions to the development of the modern cochlear implant. Ingeborg Hochmair, MED-EL, was also included in the joint award. 

October 28, 2013 — The NIDCD celebrates 25 years of research to improve the lives of people with communication disorders. Since the NIDCD's establishment in 1988, researchers supported by the NIDCD have contributed to enormous growth in medical knowledge and advances in improved diagnosis, treatment, and assistive technology for the more than 46 million people in the U.S. with communication disorders of hearing, balance, taste, smell, voice, speech, and language.

November 25, 2013 — NIDCD-funded researchers find associations between high body mass index (BMI) and large waist circumference in women and increased risk of hearing loss. Conversely, they found a higher level of physical activity is linked to lower risk of hearing loss in women.

December 16, 2013 — The NIDCD announces that it will guide one of six two-year pilot projects that received funding from the Sports and Health Research Program, which is a partnership among the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Football League (NFL), and the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH). The NIDCD-supported study is exploring whether changes in eye movement, recorded using a specialized pair of goggles, could serve as a diagnostic marker for mild traumatic brain injury (TBI). The study builds on earlier research showing that involuntary eye movements are common in people with mild TBI and reflect problems with the vestibular system.

January 2014 — The NIDCD Intramural Research Program relocates its laboratories to the state-of-the-art John Edward Porter Neuroscience Research Center. The move allows all NIDCD intramural scientists to work together on the NIH campus, fostering collaborations within NIDCD as well as with other NIH researchers.

March 2014 — NIDCD and other NIH researchers find a strong association between hearing loss and depression among U.S. adults of all ages, particularly in women. The findings are similar among whites, blacks, and Hispanics.

April 9, 2014 — The NIDCD hosts a workshop, Clinical Chemosensory Research: Needs, Future Directions, and Priorities, to address the lack of treatment strategies for taste and smell disorders. To address workshop recommendations, the NIDCD initiates a new administrative supplement program, NIDCD Administrative Research Supplements to Promote Emergence of Clinician-Scientists in Chemosensory Research, to support one-year intensive research experiences for medical students, introducing them to biomedical and behavioral chemosensory research early in their careers.

June 9-13, 2014 — The NIDCD holds its first annual EARssentials course, which offers an overall conceptual view of the auditory system and hands-on exposure to laboratory techniques unique to inner ear research.

November 2014 — The NIDCD and the National Institute on Aging (NIA) partner with other federal agencies and organizations to co-sponsor an Institute of Medicine (IOM) Consensus Study on Accessible and Affordable Hearing Health Care for Adults.

January 7, 2015 — The NIH and biotechnology company Vtesse, Inc., enter into an agreement to provide funding to continue an important clinical treatment study for Niemann-Pick disease type C (NPC), a debilitating and often fatal genetic disease. Through ongoing collaboration with other NIH scientists, researchers within the NIDCD Audiology Unit have contributed significantly to scientists’ understanding of the natural history of NPC as it relates to hearing function.

May 4-5, 2015 — NIDCD sponsors a workshop, Synaptopathy and Noise-Induced Hearing Loss: Animal Studies and Implications for Human Hearing. Scientific experts were asked to identify barriers to, and opportunities in, the area of noise-induced synaptopathy and to articulate unmet research needs in this area.

July 29, 2015 — Results from a new mouse study provide scientists with a better understanding of the role and mechanism that inflammation plays in the ototoxicity caused by a class of readily available and low-cost antibiotics called aminoglycosides; these antibiotics are used to treat certain types of life-threatening infections. The study opens doors for scientists to develop new aminoglycosides and other drugs that won’t permanently damage inner ear hair cells, which are necessary for hearing and balance. The new study is exploring ways to protect hair cells from damage caused by aminoglycosides and other drugs.

October 29, 2015 — Scientists with the NIDCD and the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), examine the first collection of nationally representative, population-based survey data of middle-aged and older adults on perceived smell and taste problems, related risk factors, and treatments. The study confirms earlier findings that problems with the perception of smell or taste—also known as chemosensory disorders—increase with age. Nearly one in three (31 percent) adults 80 years and older say they have experienced a problem with their sense of smell, including a diminished sense of smell over time.

November 6, 2015 — NIDCD-supported scientists pinpoint additional genes tied to persistent stuttering. The findings extend previous studies, providing new insights into the molecular underpinnings of the disorder and reinforcing the notion that persistent stuttering is a neurological (brain) disorder. The results may contribute to a foundation for the development of new diagnostic and therapeutic approaches for stuttering.

April 2016 — NIDCD epidemiologists publish findings showing the national prevalence during the past 12 months of dizziness and balance problems in U.S. children is 5.3 percent (3.3 million children). Prevalence increased with age, from 4.1 percent for children aged 3–5 years to 7.5 percent for adolescents aged 15–17 years. Children identified as have moderate-to-severe problems were the most likely to have seen health care professionals (72 percent) and to have received treatment (62 percent) for their dizziness and balance problems.

June 2, 2016 — The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (the National Academies) release a consensus study report, Hearing Health Care for Adults: Priorities for Improving Access and Affordability. Co-sponsored by the NIDCD and the National Institute on Aging, as well as four other federal agencies and a nonprofit patient advocacy group, the study provides a thorough analysis of the state of hearing health care for adults in the U.S. and describes meaningful approaches to reducing the impact of hearing loss among adults by making hearing health care more accessible and affordable.

June 16, 2016 — A team of NIDCD-funded scientists reports in the journal Cell that they have identified a new class of odorant receptors in mice that are structurally and functionally very different from typical odorant receptors. These new receptors are expressed in a unique class of olfactory sensory neurons in the nose which are part of the “olfactory necklace system” and project to a distinct region of the olfactory bulb of the brain. 

August 18-19, 2016 — Along with the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the NIH Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR), the NIDCD co-sponsors a scientific workshop, Language and Literacy Development in Early Dual Language Learners. The workshop consists of formal presentations on variability in bilingual development, assessment and intervention, and neurocognitive development; in-depth discussions; and separate sessions aimed at identifying research gaps and opportunities.

December 15, 2016 — A study supported by the NIDCD and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows hearing loss prevalence declined in U.S. adults under age 70, confirming a slight but positive trend that spans more than half a century. View Image.

February 7, 2017 — NIDCD researchers, using data from a nationally representative health interview and examination survey, find that nearly one in four (24 percent) of U.S. adults aged 20 to 69 has features of his or her hearing test that suggest noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) in one or both ears.

March 31, 2017 — NIDCD intramural researchers use gene therapy in one of the first examples of successfully improving hearing and balance in mice. They studied a type of inherited deafness that models a human disorder called Usher syndrome.

May 1, 2017 — NIDCD-supported scientists discover how to generate “organoids” from stem cells that functionally mimic human inner ears cells. Replicating the function of human inner ear cells in the lab offers scientists the opportunity to study disorders of the inner ear, screen potential drugs, and possibly develop cell-based therapies. 

June 21, 2017 — NIDCD-supported researchers explore how expression of genes in stem cells in the tongue guide the development of taste cells. These studies also reveal how a taste cell ultimately will respond to either salty, sweet, sour, bitter, or umami (savory).

August 22, 2017 — NIDCD-supported scientists discover a link between common antidepressant drugs, which stimulate serotonin responses, and worsening tinnitus—a ringing in the ears not elicited by sound. They observed that neurons in the brain become hyperactive when exposed to serotonin, which may enhance the onset of tinnitus.

October 10, 2017 — A collaboration between NIDCD intramural and extramural researchers provides functional, molecular, and cellular clues about the root cause of a form of childhood deafness caused by enlargement of a structure in the inner ear—the vestibular aqueduct.

December 18, 2017 — NIDCD intramural scientists help explain hearing loss caused by cisplatin, a powerful and common drug used to treat many forms of cancer. Unlike other areas of the body, cisplatin progressively accumulates and remains in the inner ear and causes death of the sensory hair cells and leads to subsequent hearing loss.

May 31, 2018 — James F. Battey, Jr., M.D., Ph.D., retires as director of the NIDCD. Judith A. Cooper, Ph.D., becomes acting director on June 1, 2018.

September 3, 2019 — Debara L. Tucci, M.D., M.S., M.B.A., is appointed director of the NIDCD.

June 5, 2020 — Andrew J. Griffith, M.D., Ph.D., resigns as scientific director of the NIDCD. Thomas B. Friedman, Ph.D., becomes acting scientific director.

April 11, 2021 — Lisa L. Cunningham, Ph.D., is appointed scientific director/director of the Division of Intramural Research, NIDCD.

September 12, 2022 — NIDCD announces the appointment of Cendrine D. Robinson, Ph.D., M.P.H., as NIDCD’s first chief diversity officer.

December 7, 2022 — NIDCD releases the 2023-2027 NIDCD Strategic Plan: Advancing the Science of Communication to Improve Lives.

April 24, 2023 — NIDCD welcomes Joshua M. Levy, M.D., M.P.H., M.S., as the newly appointed clinical director in NIDCD’s Division of Intramural Research.

June 28, 2023 — NIDCD launches the new NIDCD Director’s Seminar Series with the inaugural seminar “Technologies and Marketplace Innovations to Improve Health Care Access and Outcomes,” featuring FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf, M.D.

NIDCD Legislative Chronology

October 28, 1988 — Public Law 100-553 authorizes the establishment of the NIDCD.

February 15, 1989 — Section 406 of the Public Health Service Act, Public Law 92-463 establishes the NDCD Advisory Council to advise the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS); the NIH director; and the NIDCD director on matters relating to the conduct and support of research and research training, health information dissemination, and other programs with respect to disorders of hearing and other communication processes.

January 25, 1991 — Section 402(b)(6) of the Public Health Service Act, Public Law 92-463: the NIDCD Board of Scientific Counselors advises the director, Division of Intramural Research, NIDCD, on the quality of the intramural research programs and the research of tenured and tenure-tracked investigators in the division, through periodic reviews.

March 1, 1991 — Public Law 100-553 Section 464(b) establishes the NIDCD Information Clearinghouse to facilitate and enhance, through the effective dissemination of information, knowledge and understanding of disorders of hearing and other communication processes.

November 29, 1999 — Public Law 106-113, as a part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2000, the Newborn and Infant Hearing Screening and Intervention Act of 1999 is signed into law by President Bill Clinton. The legislation authorizes three years of funding to the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), the CDC, and the NIDCD to aid in the development of newborn infant hearing screening programs.

December 22, 2010 — Public Law 111-337, the Early Hearing Detection and Intervention Act of 2010 is signed into law by President Barack Obama. The bill reauthorizes Public Law 106-113 for fiscal years 2011-2015 and expands the program to include diagnostic services among the services provided to newborns and infants.

October 18, 2017 — Public Law 115-71, the Early Hearing Detection and Intervention Act, is signed into law by President Donald Trump. The bill reauthorizes HRSA, CDC, and NIH to continue a national program for deaf and hard-of-hearing newborns and infants. In addition, the law authorizes specific changes to the federal program, such as expanding the program to include young children who are at risk of losing their hearing during childhood from infection, harmful noise exposure, or genetic causes. PL 115-71 reauthorizes the program until 2022.

Biographical Sketch of NIDCD Debara L. Tucci, M.D., M.S., M.B.A.

Debara L. Tucci NIDCD Director Debara L. Tucci, M.D., M.S., M.B.A.

Debara L. Tucci is the director of the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a post she assumed on September 3, 2019. She is the NIDCD’s first woman in this role and the institute’s fourth director since it was founded in 1988. Dr. Tucci oversees the NIDCD’s annual budget of approximately $459 million and leads the institute’s research and research training programs in hearing, balance, taste, smell, voice, speech, and language. Discoveries in these areas can have a dramatic impact on the lives of the tens of millions of people with deafness and other communication disorders.

Dr. Tucci has been recognized as a pioneer in her work to understand the causes and impact of hearing loss and to develop treatments to restore hearing. Prior to joining the NIDCD, she was on the faculty of Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, since 1993, where she co-founded the Duke Hearing Center and directed Duke’s cochlear implant program. 

Receiving continuous NIH funding since beginning her academic career, Dr. Tucci’s early work examined the effects of conductive hearing impairment on central auditory system function in an animal model. Throughout her career, she has successfully combined clinical and surgical practice in otology, neurotology, and skull base surgery with basic, translational, and clinical research. 

Her clinical research interests have focused on addressing barriers to hearing health care for older adults, starting in the primary care setting. She was also instrumental in establishing a national network of academic and community-based research sites to conduct clinical research in hearing and balance disorders. She has led clinical studies on treatments for sudden sensorineural hearing loss, tinnitus, and Ménière’s disease. Dr. Tucci also led NIDCD grants to train and mentor the next generation of clinician investigators in otolaryngology and communication sciences. Her work to address hearing loss as a global public health problem continues at NIH in her role as co-chair of the Lancet Commission on Global Hearing Loss.

Dr. Tucci began her career as a clinical audiologist at the University of Virginia (UVA) Health Sciences Center in Charlottesville for four years before earning a medical degree at UVA School of Medicine in 1985. She completed her residency training in otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at UVA and a postdoctoral fellowship in otology, neurotology, and skull base surgery at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. In 2013, Dr. Tucci earned an M.B.A. in business and health sector management from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.

Dr. Tucci has served on numerous advisory and review committees, including the National Deafness and Other Communication Disorders Advisory Council (2013-2017) and the NIDCD Board of Scientific Counselors (2017-2019). She was also a member of the 2015-2016 Consensus Committee on Accessible and Affordable Hearing Health Care for Adults convened by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 

She has served in national leadership roles for most of the professional societies related to her specialty and subspecialty. The American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS) honored Dr. Tucci in 2012 with the Distinguished Service Award and again in 2017 with the Jerome C. Goldstein, M.D., Public Service Award. She has served on the AAO-HNS Research Advisory Board, Board of Directors, Executive Committee, and numerous subcommittees. She has also been president of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology, the American Otological Society, and the American Neurotology Society.

NIDCD Directors

Name In Office from To
Jay Moskowitz (Acting) October 31, 1988 February 10, 1990
James B. Snow, Jr. February 11,1990 September 15, 1997
James F. Battey, Jr. February 10, 1998 May 31, 2018
Judith A. Cooper (Acting) June 1, 2018 September 2, 2019
Debara L. Tucci September 3, 2019 Present

Research Programs

The NIDCD supports and conducts research and research training in the normal and disordered processes of hearing, balance, taste, smell, voice, speech, and language through a program of grants and contracts in basic, clinical, and translational research. The institute also conducts and supports research and research training related to disease prevention and health promotion; addresses special biomedical and behavioral problems associated with communication disorders; and supports efforts to create devices that substitute for lost and impaired sensory and communication function. Research is conducted in public and private institutions across the country and around the world and within the laboratories and clinics at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.

The Division of Intramural Research (DIR) conducts basic and clinical research in human communication disorders, with a primary interest in hearing and balance. Current projects address areas such as: disorders of hearing, balance, speech, and language in human and mouse models; identifying molecules and pathways important for the development, structure, and function of the inner ear, and its connection with nerve cells; characterizing the molecular and cellular mechanisms of loss of hearing or balance caused by genetic mutations or non-genetic factors such as noise or drugs; and exploring new and improved methods to detect, diagnose, prevent, and treat hearing and balance disorders. In addition, the DIR hosts the Otolaryngology Surgeon-Scientist Program (OSSP), a mentored career development program for junior faculty. The OSSP trains otolaryngology surgeon-scientists to conceive, develop, and test novel diagnostic and therapeutic strategies through translational research that bridges basic science, medicine, and surgery. Current OSSP research programs focus on a wide range of translational topics, including gene therapy targeting the inner ear, auditory development and regeneration, minimizing chemotherapy-induced hearing loss, and tumor immunology.

The NIDCD’s extramural program supports research and training opportunities at universities, medical centers, and other institutions throughout the U.S. and abroad through research grants, career development awards, and other mechanisms. Our extramural research and training programs are administered through the Division of Scientific Programs (DSP) and the Division of Extramural Activities (DEA).

DEA staff provide grant management and processing for all of the institute’s extramural research projects and conduct initial scientific merit review of a large array of grant mechanisms. Staff coordinate a broad range of activities and functions to ensure sound and efficient scientific review and financial management of extramural program activities. DSP staff provide leadership and advice in developing, implementing, and coordinating extramural programs and policies. In DSP, scientific program staff plan and direct NIDCD’s extramural research grants, career development awards, individual and institutional research training awards, center grants, and contracts to public and private research institutions and organizations across the country and around the world.

The Office of Health Communications and Public Liaison (OHCPL) disseminates information about NIDCD research support and results, health information, and NIDCD programs to the media, patients and the public, health professionals, scientists, industry, policymakers, and others. OHCPL manages the NIDCD Information Clearinghouse as well as the institute’s public education campaign, It’s a Noisy Planet. Protect Their Hearing.®, which aims to increase awareness among children ages 8 to 12 and their parents and caregivers about preventing noise-induced hearing loss. The Science Policy and Planning Branch also supports educational and awareness efforts through congressional briefings and partnerships with professional societies and advocacy groups.

Hearing and Balance

Hearing and balance disorders decrease the quality of life, cross all ethnic and socioeconomic lines, and impose significant social and economic burden upon individuals, their families, and the communities in which they live. Millions of Americans experience a hearing or balance disorder at some point in their life, especially as young children or older adults. Common examples include otitis media (middle ear infections), noise-induced hearing loss, tinnitus (ringing or buzzing in the ear), age-related hearing loss, dizziness, and vertigo. Nearly 25 percent of Americans aged 65 to 74, and 50 percent of those who are 75 and older, have disabling hearing loss. Nearly 15 percent of adults in the U.S. report experiencing a problem with dizziness or balance during the past 12 months.

The NIDCD Hearing and Balance Program comprises over half of NIDCD’s research portfolio. To study normal and disordered functions of the auditory and vestibular systems, the NIDCD supports a wide range of research approaches including molecular genetics, cellular biology, animal models, biomedical imaging, nanotechnology, psychoacoustics, and structural and functional biology.

To understand the basis of auditory function and dysfunction, animal models are being used to study the function of the proteins encoded by deafness genes, to test possible therapies for hearing impairment, and to screen potential therapeutic drugs. In addition, scientists use animal models to study the properties of auditory sensory cells and the characteristics of the response of the inner ear to sound.

Improving hearing health for all ages has been an ongoing priority for the NIDCD. The NIDCD continues to support research to develop new approaches, assessment methods, and technologies to improve the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of hearing and balance disorders. The NIDCD also seeks research to improve access to and affordability of hearing health care. Clinical studies and clinical trials include developing and/or enhancing devices to improve or enable hearing or enable the sense of sound—such as hearing aids, cochlear implants, and auditory brainstem implants (ABI), as well as their associated habilitation/rehabilitation needs.

Research demonstrates that infants who are born deaf or hard-of-hearing have a better chance of learning language if the hearing loss is identified immediately after they are born and if they learn a spoken or signed language as early as possible. The NIDCD has placed a high priority on understanding the causes, possible treatments, and progression of hearing loss during early childhood. Two to three out of 1,000 babies born in the U.S. each year have a detectable hearing loss that can affect their speech and language, as well as their social and cognitive development. In 1989, less than five percent of newborns received hearing screening prior to leaving the hospital, and most children were not identified to have a hearing impairment until two to three years of age. That delay during a critical period for language development led to lifelong difficulties in language acquisition and the need for costly special education in schools for the deaf. The implementation of universal newborn hearing screening, a joint effort by the NIDCD, HRSA, and the CDC, has dramatically improved the identification of infants with hearing loss early in life and accelerated the initiation of services for these children. Today, more than 98 percent of children born in the U.S. are screened for hearing loss annually which allows for early intervention for these infants.

Throughout the years, NIDCD has also supported new technologies for the treatment of hearing loss. This includes research to improve cochlear implant and hearing aid technology. In addition, advances are being made in developing brainstem implants and brain-computer interfaces to aid those with communication disorders. Such technology has made a significant impact in outcomes for those with communication disorders, as evidenced by marked improvements in speech perception and production by most children who receive cochlear implants early in life.

Studies concerning the encoding of complex signals transmitted from the auditory nerve to the brain are also supported by the NIDCD. 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, and progress has been made in understanding the structure and function of efferent feedback pathways to the inner ear. Evidence suggests that the efferent system may aid in the detection of signals in noisy environments and serve to protect the ear from acoustic injury. Acoustic injury due to noise, including noise damage to the hair cell afferent synapse, is also an area of active research by NIDCD-supported scientists.

Tinnitus—a ringing in the ears lasting at least five minutes in the past year—is a hearing disorder that affects approximately 25 million Americans, including many military service personnel returning from active duty. Its severity can range from a mild condition, which requires no intervention, to a severely debilitating disease with significant emotional, social, and economic impact. NIDCD research aims to determine the neural basis of tinnitus and to develop effective interventions.

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 loss.

Otitis media continues to be a significant focus of NIDCD research because of its prevalence and societal cost. Important risk factors for otitis media have been identified, and 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 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.

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 allow a greater understanding of why and to what degree infants and children are susceptible to ototoxic drugs used in the treatment of infections.

The NIDCD also supports vestibular research. 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 affect a large proportion of the population—particularly the elderly—and can result in 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).

To better understand the role of the vestibular system, the NIDCD 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 individuals 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 individuals with balance and vestibular disorders.

Taste and Smell

The NIDCD supports studies of the chemical senses—taste, smell, and chemethesis (chemically provoked irritation)—to understand how individuals communicate with their environment and how human chemosensory disorders can be diagnosed and treated.

Smell and taste receptor cells are continually replaced throughout life and are replaced rapidly in response to injury, such as exposure to pollutants and airborne toxins. These are the only known mammalian sensory cells with this native regenerative capability. The NIDCD supports studies on the process of receptor cell regeneration, including those focused on stem cell differentiation and maintenance.

The regenerative capability of the olfactory system declines with age, with important consequences for our increasingly aged population. Researchers estimate that more than a third of adults over age 70 have olfactory deficits. Since both taste and smell contribute to flavor, olfactory deficits affect the flavor of foods and consequently food intake, diet, and health status. The NIDCD encourages studies of this age-related decline in olfactory sensitivity, including the development of better diagnostic tests and animal models for use in studying why this decline occurs and how to prevent it.

Great advances have been made in understanding how receptors cells detect chemical cues and how this information is transmitted to the brain. The NIDCD supports molecular and cellular studies of the peripheral mechanisms underlying chemosensation, including studies aimed at characterizing vertebrate and invertebrate chemoreceptors with respect to their structure, function, signaling pathways, patterns of gene expression, and regulation.

NIDCD-supported scientists are studying the central processing of chemosensory information, including the underlying neural circuitry of central olfactory and gustatory brain regions and how these circuits fail in pathology. NIDCD investigators have been at the forefront of developing and applying state-of-the-art recording, imaging, computational, and behavioral approaches to examine neural circuit function in awake, behaving animals. Current NIDCD-funded studies are examining the development and plasticity of neural circuits, the functions and connectivity of cortical structures that interpret chemical senses information, the complex multisensory aspects of flavor perception, and the top-down modulation of sensory input and ways in which this is shaped by motivational or cognitive factors.

The NIDCD supports clinical chemosensory research for improved diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of chemosensory disorders. Additional clinical and epidemiological studies will allow researchers to better understand the effects of factors such as diet, early dietary experiences, individual genetic variation, aging, infection, and disease on chemosensory sensitivities and to link chemosensory deficits to other clinical disorders. 

Voice, Speech, and Language

Disorders involving voice, speech, or language can have an overwhelming effect on an individual’s health and quality of life. These disorders affect people of all ages with or without hearing impairment, including children with autism, those who stutter, and adults with aphasia or speech disorders. Nearly eight percent of children ages 3-17 years have had a communication disorder during the past 12 months, according to data from the 2012 National Health Interview Survey. By the first grade, roughly five percent of children have noticeable speech disorders. In children, delayed speech and language acquisition or impairment are very often significant predictors of future academic, social, vocational, and adaptive outcomes. Further, an estimated 17.9 million U.S. adults ages 18 or older, or 7.6 percent, report having had a problem with their voice in the past 12 months.

The NIDCD Voice, Speech, and Language Program uses a wide range of research approaches to develop effective diagnostic and intervention strategies for individuals with communication impairments. Research in voice and speech includes studies to determine the nature, causes, treatment, and prevention of disorders of motor speech production throughout the lifespan. Language research includes the exploration of the genetic bases of child speech and language disorders, as well as characterizing the linguistic and cognitive deficits in children and adults with language disorders.

The NIDCD supports several animal research studies investigating the feasibility of using muscle stem cells and novel bioengineering approaches to deliver growth factors to injured laryngeal nerves to encourage reinnervation and restoration of laryngeal muscle function. This will have direct relevance towards creating a more practical treatment strategy for human disorders, including treatment of laryngeal paralysis and other peripheral nerve injuries.

Other NIDCD-supported studies have demonstrated that children with developmental speech and language problems are at considerable risk for learning disabilities and other psychosocial problems that emerge during adolescence or adulthood.

Researchers are learning how reflux from the stomach to the throat and vocal fold tissue harms the larynx. They have demonstrated that reflux significantly alters the expression of 27 genes that are associated with malignant changes of the larynx. Understanding how changes in gene expression lead to laryngeal injury provides a comprehensive model for identifying novel diagnostic and therapeutic targets to treat reflux-related injury.

Investigators are actively working to provide “locked-in” individuals with a direct means of producing speech to allow rapid communication between the individual and caregivers as well as control of computers. Researchers aim to accomplish this through the development of a direct brain-to-speech generator that will use an individual's neural signals.

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 will further our understanding of the neural bases of language disorders. Research on acquisition, characterization, and use of American Sign Language is expanding knowledge of the language used by many individuals who are deaf.

Language researchers supported by the NIDCD are also exploring the genetic bases of child language disorders, as well as characterizing the linguistic and cognitive deficits in children and adults with language disorders. Researchers are developing effective diagnostic and intervention strategies for children with autism spectrum disorder or specific language impairment, as well as for adults with aphasia.

Clinical Trials

The NIDCD is committed to building and expanding its clinical trials program to promote the development of interventions to treat or prevent communication disorders in the areas of hearing, balance, taste, smell, voice, speech, and language. The NIDCD has a longstanding history of funding research in the basic sciences in all of these areas and encourages the transition from basic science discoveries to clinical trials and other patient-oriented research.

Clinical research supported by the NIDCD must meet high standards of scientific rigor in both how the study is designed and how it is carried out and maintained. The safety of volunteer participants is the highest priority.

Epidemiology and Statistics

The NIDCD supports epidemiological (clinical) and population-based research studies in all seven mission areas of the institute: hearing, balance, taste, smell, voice, speech, and language. Studies assess impairments of hearing and other communication disorders across the lifespan, including risks associated with other health conditions as well as behavioral, demographic, environmental, and genetic factors. The research studies supported include longitudinal cohort studies, population-based health interview or examination cross-sectional surveys, and case-control studies, such as community-based and nationally representative health interview and examination surveys to advance knowledge of the prevalence and determinants of communication disorders. The NIDCD maintains research collaborations on national health interview and examination surveys with other federal agencies and with academic and private sector organizations via research contracts or interagency agreements, including collaboration on the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort: 2001 and Kindergarten Cohort: 2010/2011, which have been sponsored by the National Center for Education Statistics, Department of Education. NIDCD epidemiologists have contributed to the analysis and interpretation of trends for the Hearing Health Promotion, Office of the Secretary, Department of Health and Human Services, Healthy People 2020 initiative as well as development of Healthy People 2030, which incorporates health objectives for all seven mission areas of the NIDCD. The NIDCD provides consultation on the design and analysis of studies of therapeutic interventions, disease prevention or progression, and environmental or genetic causes. In addition, NIDCD develops and supports statistical methods and data systems for the purpose of tracking prevalence rates and estimating relative and attributable risks.

This page last reviewed on September 7, 2023