TOP NEWS and HEADLINES in June

  • Stereocilium Rootlets Implicated in Hearing Function
  • In Memoriam: Fritz Sennheiser, PhD (May 9, 1912 – May 17, 2010)
  • Starkey Introduces S Series iQ and S Series iQ OtoLens
  • Bill Clinton Speaks at Lexington Hearing & Speech Center Anniversary
  • Scientists Probe Formation of Auditory Memories
  • Starkey Offers New Student Clinical Practice Placement Program
  • TV Ears Upgrades Original System for LCDs, Plasma TVs
  • High Frequencies Used to Better Measure Inner Ear’s Properties
  • Imaging Reveals How Brain Fails to Tune Out Phantom Sounds of Tinnitus
  • Auricle Ink Releases The Consumer Handbook on Hearing Loss and Noise
  • EARtrak Debuts Web-Based Customer Satisfaction Survey


  • World Cup brings hearing and noise awareness to a pitch. South African soccer fans’ instrument of choice, the vuvuzela horn, was already controversial before the World Cup began there in June, with authorities concerned that their excessive volume could prevent people from hearing announcements. Now, new tests have shown that the instrument is so loud, it poses a more immediate health risk to fans and players, according to Hear the World, a global initiative by Phonak.

    The long, plastic, trumpet-shaped vuvuzela was found to emit an ear-piercing noise of 127 dB—louder than a lawnmower (90 decibels) and a chainsaw (100 decibels). Extended exposure at just 85 dB puts people at risk of permanent noise-induced hearing loss, and when subjected to 100 dB or more, hearing damage can occur in just 15 minutes, says Phonak.

    In a soundproof studio, Hear the World tested the most popular soccer fan instruments from around the world. The distance between the sound source and the testing device was 10 cm, and the test was carried out using a benchmark filter under the IEC standard that represents actual hearing perception. The test series was monitored and logged by an audiologist from Phonak AG.

    Second most harmful to the ears was the air-horn, popular with English soccer fans, which exposes people’s ears to damage-inducing levels of 123.6 dB. This was followed by the drum, which reached a level of 122 dB.

    According to the gossip Web site TMZ.com, earplug sales exploded in South Africa during the World Cup in response to the rampant use of vuvuzelas. TMZ said that, according to a representative for earplug manufacturer EPO, sales were up 121%. Another earplug manufacturer, Sheppard Medical, said they sold more than 400,000 sets since kickoff—a 20% increase.

    Peer Lauritsen
    Peer Lauritsen
  • Oticon Foundation awards $60,000 grant for research in otolaryngology. The Oticon Foundation, Copenhagen, Denmark, has awarded the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Foundation (AAO-HNSF) a $60,000 grant to support research efforts tied directly to improving the quality of patient care. The grant will fund the work of the AAO-HNSF’s Centralized Otolaryngology Research Efforts (CORE), a program that trains young otolaryngology research investigators and provides much-needed research funding. The Oticon Foundation’s multi-year funding will be used to establish a new CORE grant for research in otology, with the goal of generating vital new research about hearing loss and other hearing disorders.

    “The mission of CORE aligns with the Oticon Foundation’s mission of supporting innovative research training and research that can benefit all people, especially those with hearing loss,” said Oticon President Peer Lauritsen. “The Oticon Foundation grant will support the AAO-HNSF in actively encouraging the next generation of investigators who will generate new understanding in otology and hearing loss.”

    Jean Brereton, senior director of Research, Quality Improvement, and Health Policy at the AAO-HNS, said, “The Oticon Foundation’s generous funding will provide a research grant that will serve as a long-term investment in the success of tomorrow’s advances in medicine. Our organizations share a deep desire to advance health education and to improve the quality of patient care around the world.”

    The AAO-HNSF and related subspecialty societies formed the CORE Program in 1985, recognizing a need to train young otolaryngologists for a career in research and to increase research development in the specialty. Since 1985, almost 400 CORE grants have been awarded by CORE sponsors, societies, and foundations, totaling almost $7 million.

    For information about Oticon Foundation grants, contact Donald Schum, PhD, at .

  • A new notion of how we hear takes root. It has long been known that stereocilia, the stiff hair-like projections jutting from the tops of cochlear hair cells, are vital for hearing. But recently, an international research team led by scientists from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), Bethesda, Md, found that a structure at the base of the stereocilium is also critical to the hearing process. The structure, called the rootlet, is a short connector piece between a stereocilium and a hair cell, extending a short distance into each component like a toothpick that connects the narrow end of a dill pickle (the stereocilium) to a large chunk of cheese (the hair cell).

    “Just like stereocilia, the rootlet consists of the protein actin, but it’s a denser structure than the stereocilium. Nobody knew precisely what it is made of and what its function is,” said NIDCD geneticist Thomas Friedman, PhD, senior researcher on the study. “Obviously, if you see something extending down into one structure, then up into another one, you think of it as an anchor. And it turns out that’s true, but it does much more than that, and that actually surprised us.”

    Earlier studies by Friedman’s team had found that mutations in a gene called TRIOBP (pronounced “tree-oh BP”) are associated with hereditary deafness in humans called DFNB28. The team discovered that not only is the protein TRIOBP critical for the formation of the rootlet, but stereocilia that lack rootlets degenerate and do not function properly.

    The scientists used specially marked antibodies that bind to TRIOBP to show where it’s located in the mouse inner ear, and saw that three key variants of the protein are located in the rootlet. In addition, they discovered that the protein was located primarily around the outside of the actin filaments that form the rootlet.

    Next, the team wanted to see how TRIOBP interacted with actin filaments. They purified one of the human TRIOBP variants and mixed it into a solution with actin filaments, similar to those that compose stereocilia. When they centrifuged the two substances together at high speeds, they found that the TRIOBP and actin formed clumps, indicating that the protein binds with the actin filaments. When they examined the bundles under an electron microscope, they saw that the actin filaments were tightly packed—as dense as those found in stereocilia rootlets and much denser than the actin filaments found in the body of a stereocilium.

    Finally, in a mouse model, the scientists removed a short but functionally important stretch of the gene that corresponds to the region of the human TRIOBP gene where human deafness mutations are found. Indeed, without functional TRIOBP, the rootlets did not form and the mice were deaf. Stereocilia that lacked rootlets were found to be more flexible and fragile than those with rootlets, which could explain why deafness occurs in mice lacking functional TRIOBP and in humans with mutations in the TRIOBP gene.

    The researchers propose that TRIOBP forms a rootlet by winding itself very tightly around the stereocilia’s actin filaments that insert into the hair cell. The rootlet gives the stereocilia greater rigidity and durability yet flexibility, which is required for the stereocilia to function properly. The research appears in the May 28 edition of Cell.

  • Hearing Aid Tax Credit attracts 120th Congressional sponsor. Hearing Aid Tax Credit legislation in the House of Representatives (HR 1646) reached another milestone when Rep Jackie Speier (D-Calif) became the 120th Representative to cosponsor the bill. The legislation has already exceeded previous cosponsorship totals achieved in the Republican-majority 109th Congress (ending in 2006), and the Democratic-majority 110th Congress (ending in 2008)—both of which peaked at 112 cosponsors at the conclusion of each full 2-year session. With the remainder of 2010 left for the 111th Congress, tax credit supporters are hopeful that the bill will be considered as part of any major tax reform proposals that emerge in the coming months or early next year.

    The Hearing Aid Tax Credit was introduced in the House by Reps Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) and Vern Ehlers (R-Mich) to provide assistance to some of the 34 million people who need a hearing aid to treat their hearing loss. If enacted, HR 1646 would provide a $500 tax credit per hearing aid for children and people age 55 and older. While hearing aids can treat 95% of all hearing losses, only 25% of those who could benefit from them actually use them, according to MarkeTrak data published in the October 2009 HR. Related legislation (S1019) championed by Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) is cosponsored by 10 Senators, and would provide the tax credit to people of all ages. For more information, visit www.hearingaidtaxcredit.org.


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