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      The next generation of hearing loss researchers

      We're working hard to speed up the development of treatments for hearing loss and tinnitus. As part of this, we provide funding for PhD students, supporting the next generation of hearing researchers. Every year, we invite our students to visit us at our headquarters in London. Silvia Davey, from our fundraising team, tells us about their visit.

      By: Silvia Davey | 14 February 2019
      We’re striving for a world where people with deafness, tinnitus and hearing loss can receive the support and treatments they need and want. But ground-breaking scientific discoveries only happen when the best and brightest people are working in the field. That’s why we fund PhD students, supporting them in the earliest stages of their research careers. The grants we give them ensure that we boost capacity in the field – helping build the next generation of leaders in hearing loss research.

      Bringing together our PhD students

      Every year, our Biomedical Research team holds an open day for the PhD students we fund. The event is a fantastic opportunity for these young and talented hearing researchers to come together from across the country. During the day, they can share their work with their peers, and find out more about what we do as a charity. In the afternoon, the students present posters about their research projects to our staff and to our special supporters, whilst networking and sharing ideas.

      This year, our Executive Director of Research, Dr Ralph Holme, kicked off the day with an inspirational opening address. He highlighted the significant social issues that accompany hearing loss, such as loneliness, isolation and unemployment. Ralph also told us of the links that have recently been found between hearing loss and dementia. He announced that we are funding some exciting new projects on this topic, which will help shed light on the connection between the two conditions.

      ‘Supporting research is hugely important, as it is getting us ever closer to effective treatments for people with hearing loss and tinnitus – ultimately helping them lead the lives that they choose’. Dr Ralph Holme, Executive Director of Research.

      An incredible variety of PhD projects

      During the first half of the day, each student gave a short presentation, introducing themselves and their research. They’re working on a strikingly diverse set of topics – ranging from understanding the roles of important genes and proteins in our ear, to developing better diagnostic tests and devices for hearing loss.

      ‘Action on Hearing Loss has funded my PhD for three years. Without this help and support, I probably wouldn’t have decided to do it, as three years of study is a lot to self-fund! This PhD will help develop my professional career in the hearing sciences, and importantly it will help improve the quality of life of people with hearing loss.’ Francisca Perea Perez, Action on Hearing Loss PhD Student

      For example, one of our students is doing some complex statistical analyses on large quantities of genetic data, to identify genes related to hearing loss. To date, she has found over 30 new genes that could play an important part in our hearing, and she is now studying what some of these genes do in the ear. Another student spoke of how she is looking at two specific proteins and the role they play in tinnitus and auditory neuropathy. These projects are examples of how research can help to find new ways of treating hearing loss and tinnitus – something which is now closer to our reach than ever before.

      Some of the projects the students presented have a more direct impact, and their results could reach the clinic in a matter of years. One student is developing a robotic machine to help surgeons to insert cochlear implants in the most effective and least damaging of ways. Another is testing whether a computer programme can objectively measure the quality of hearing aids, and their ability at detecting speech in noisy environments. This would enable us to identify the best hearing aids and hearing aid settings for each individual, and ensure that the NHS spends its money in the most efficient way.

      ‘I hadn’t realised the wide variety of research that Action on Hearing Loss is supporting in the field – it is truly fantastic!’ Action on Hearing Loss supporter

      Communicating research findings openly and honestly

      In the afternoon, we were lucky to be joined by Rebecca Asher, the Deputy Director of Sense about Science. Sense about Science challenges the misrepresentation of science and evidence in public life, and ensures that good quality science is recognised in public debates and policymaking. Rebecca gave an overview of their work, and actively encouraged our students to feel empowered to stand up for science, get involved in scientific debates, and communicate their research widely.

      ‘At a time when sources of information are so numerous, and the quality of that information so varied, it's important that the public is able to scrutinise the evidence behind claims they come across. So researchers need to put their evidence out there, and communicate it in a genuinely accessible way. You all play a vital role in the evidence movement.’ Rebecca Asher, Deputy Director at Sense about Science

      We couldn’t agree more with Rebecca. This is why we invest significant resources into communicating our researcher’s findings on our website, in blogposts and through our social media channels. We also support and encourage researchers to share their findings with the public in an accessible way.

      Networking with our supporters and staff

      In the final session of the day, our students presented posters on their research to our supporters and staff. It was a unique opportunity for us to find out more about hearing research, how we support it, and the impact it can have on people with hearing loss or tinnitus. There was a great atmosphere, and a lot of interesting questions flying about!

      Our Chief Executive Mark Atkinson ended the day with some closing remarks:
      ‘It has been so inspiring to meet our PhD students today, and find out about their research. It is evident that these talented scientists are key to the discovery and development of life changing treatments. That is why we believe it is vital to invest in the training of future research leaders through our PhD and Fellowship grant schemes.’

      Thank you to everyone who attended the day and made it such a success. We’re looking forward to seeing you again next year!

      Find out more

      We depend on your donations so we can fund the best hearing and tinnitus research around the world. Donate today and help us continue our vital work into hearing treatments, so that people can live life to the full again.

      You can find out more about the research we’re funding in our biomedical research section.

      If you’re interested in finding out more about our research, sign up to receive our Soundbite e-newsletter. It’s a monthly email, filled with the latest news about hearing and tinnitus research.
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