Lynn Henselman Video (Text Version)
Title: Addressing Research Gaps for Our Veterans
Lynn Henselman, Ph.D.; U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Hearing Center of Excellence
I am a Retired Army Audiologist. I spent 20 years in the Army doing clinical and research audiology. And then I retired and I’m actually an employee of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
There has been great risk for Service members, just from their daily operations from the loud noise that’s in the military environment, from the weapons systems, from different types of generators, from vehicles; it’s at a very high-level of noise that can damage the auditory system.
From the perspective of the Department of Veterans Affairs that the number two disability for Veterans is hearing loss.
I serve as the Deputy Division Chief of the Hearing Center of Excellence, and our Congressional mandate is to advocate for research for auditory and vestibular issues. It’s our responsibility to help determine where the research gaps are and to help advocate for resources for research. So the Hearing Restoration Research Program is certainly right in our wheelhouse, in that it was something that Congress thought was very important, that there is a gap, and as one of the subject matter experts in the area, I sit on the Programmatic Review Panel.
When we review a grant, we look at, number one, is the research relevant to the military? The military in many instances has different needs than the civilian sector, so is the research addressing needs that are important to the military? And then we also look at whether or not the proposal is meeting the intent of the program announcement. So the vision, the mission, what we are trying to determine from this research. So how well does that proposal meet what we’re trying to achieve with the Hearing Restoration Research Program?
I think everyone comes from a background of understanding what the military needs are. So, at the end of the day, we’re able to come to a consensus very easily about what meets the programmatic review criteria.
Some of the focus areas include a translational focus. So we are interested in biological mechanisms like auditory hair cell regeneration, neural regeneration within the auditory system—to be able to restore hearing. We know that, in birds and in certain types of fish, that the hair cell can regenerate or, not only noise, but from ototoxic kinds of things. So, if they’re damaged, they can just regrow. But in mammals, this is not the case. So we’re trying to understand what is it about, say, the birds, that allows the hair cells to regenerate, and how can we make that happen in mammals, in humans.
That’s an area that has been studied for many years, but it’s very complex and solutions are slow in coming. But because of advances in other areas of science, we’ve seen advancements in the hair cell regeneration and neural regeneration. So it’s just a difficult issue; it’s a difficult problem. But if we can solve it, it would really move our ability to help restore hearing to a different level for—for our Service members and Veterans.
The second focus area is looking at how can we validate our assessment and diagnostic measures for functional hearing restoration? So how is it that we can determine if hearing is restored? So what are different ways to assess that? How do we diagnose hearing issues, and then how do we understand and diagnose improvements?
And it’s important for investigators who are considering applying for the Hearing Restoration Research Program to keep in mind that we’re looking for innovative solutions and something that would really speak to the military. It must be military-relevant. Think about the area that you’re studying. Is it, number one, is it a problem for the military? So is it something that our Service members are facing? Really think about what would have the most impact on the Service member and the number of Service members, and think about research that is really going to move the field forward and help bring solutions to the Warfighter.
I’m very thankful that this Congressional special interest dollars is available. It helps address an unmet need for research, and it also helps, not only our Service members, but our Veterans.
Last updated Tuesday, January 4, 2022