According to the World Health Organization, by 2050, nearly 2.5 billion people are projected to have some degree of hearing loss. At least 700 million will require hearing rehabilitation. Currently, over five percent of the world’s population require rehabilitation to address their hearing loss.

The Department of Otolaryngology at the University of Pittsburgh is working hard to lower these numbers and restore hearing. Our hearing-related research team has grown significantly, with experts in all areas of the ear and many in the brain. We have the Pittsburgh Hearing Research Center (see below), and on the clinical side, we support world-class otologists and audiologists who serve the needs of patients and keep up on the latest technologies, surgeries, and therapies.

The University of Pittsburgh is the third highest funded university by the National Institutes of Health, so the resources we have give an edge over other institutions. Our experts are working in the most basic cellular-level science (genetic causes of hearing loss, auditory perception in the brain) to the most translational (drug development, building an adaptive cochlear implant). Pittsburgh is the best place for these advances to occur, with a rapidly growing life sciences-focused economy driven by two top universities. New medical and tech startups are forming all the time.

We are poised to be the top producer for technologies and therapies to reverse and prevent hearing loss.

Areas in which the Department excels:

The Pittsburgh Hearing Research Center (PHRC) is unlike any other hearing-related research enterprise. Established in 2017, it has a dedicated group of scientists, physicians and staff whose goal is to perform basic science and translational research to develop solutions, cures, and products to treat and prevent hearing loss and hearing loss-related disorders, as well as to develop more general solutions for neuroscience-based disorders, according to PHRC Director Dr. Thanos Tzounopoulos. This includes commercialization of novel technology and the recent recruitment of Dr. Melissa McGovern, whose lab is interested in the circumstances necessary to reprogram non-hair cells into functional hair cells so that they can begin to design gene therapies for hearing restoration. Current PHRC research includes developing a drug for tinnitus and developing gene therapy strategies for treating hearing loss.

The strength of UPMC Audiology under the leadership of Dr. Catherine Palmer is one of the hallmarks of our Department. She has led efforts in interventional audiology, such as embedding audiology clinics within other settings, and outreach projects, like partnering with community health workers to incorporate hearing screenings.

The Department has a world-class neurotology program. Plans include expanding the clinical program and recruiting a surgeon-scientist. Clinical and research training is a focus. The PhD and MD/PhD program is prestigious, and Chair Dr. Zevallos plans to create a new surgical training lab.

Ultimately, the goal is to improve social and health outcomes through improved hearing and communication.

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To learn about the newest research updates & news, visit our Hearing Loss and Tinnitus blogs, as well as the links below: