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Deaf Scientists Probe Hearing Loss Treatments

Deaf News: Team of Deaf scientists probe hearing loss treatments in Oregon.

PORTLAND, OR -- WISN Milwaukee: When Peter Steyger learned to speak, he had to wear hearing aids. At 14 months, he was struck with meningitis. The powerful antibiotic that saved his life largely stripped him of hearing.

His mother, determined to keep him in the hearing community, worked with him an hour a day for four years as part of an intensive regime of speech therapy. Sometimes it took him 10 minutes to learn a single word. He didn't start to catch up to his peers until eight years later.

But today at 54, Steyger is a prominent auditory neuroscientist. At Oregon Health & Science University, he's part of a team of researchers who are studying the auditory system in hopes of helping others who can't hear.

The 10 faculty members in OHSU's Oregon Hearing Research Center are considered trailblazers among their peers.

"I look at their program as a very unique one in the world because of the breadth and the depth of their auditory science and the high quality of the science that's done there," said Jennifer Stone, an auditory neuroscientist at the University of Washington in Seattle.

The center also stands out in another way: It has five professors with hearing loss. Few other auditory research departments have even one scientist with a hearing disability. None has as many as OHSU, experts say.

Their varied biomedical backgrounds allow them to study every aspect of the auditory system, and their personal experiences inform their research.

"They've all got pretty high profiles and are covering lots of different bases," said Jonathan Ashmore, a leading auditory neuroscientist based at University College London in Britain.

Their work has helped make the center, dating to 1967, one of the biggest nationwide. About a dozen other universities have hearing research centers with at least three faculty members. Only about five have 10 or more. OHSU's department of otolaryngology - an ear, nose and throat specialty - is No. 2 in funding from the National Institutes of Health, at $10 million a year, right behind Johns Hopkins University.

For the scientists, it's not been easy. Their hearing loss has complicated their lives. They struggled to follow their teachers and professors, keep up in graduate school and complete their post-doctoral training. They had difficulty taking notes. They suffered from a sense of isolation and found it tough to make friends.

But they found a home at the Oregon Hearing Research Center. They're not alone in their disability, and they have a personal motivation to succeed. Though their research might not cure their own hearing loss, they hope to help the hearing of future generations... Read The Full Story - WISN Milwaukee.
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