Hearing research is difficult because the delicate hearing structures are located deep inside the skull. Although imaging techniques such as MRI’s and CT scans are helpful to view structures for abnormalities, they are less helpful to study the “process” of hearing. Therefore, the only way to really explore and investigate causes behind hearing loss are to dissect the hearing organ from the brain.
National Temporal Bone Registry
The National Temporal Bone Registry is a group of dedicated hearing and balance researchers who spend their time studying hearing loss through donations of hearing structures from deceased individuals. Consequently, this allows many researchers to examine, study and process the tiny inner ear structures for hearing defects at the molecular level. Researchers can then develop new ways to diagnose and correct ear disorders.
Looking Inside the Ear
Displayed below is the portion of the skull that contains the delicate hearing and balance system. From this illustration, one can understand why research on living patients is so difficult.
The mechanisms used to enable hearing and maintain balanced coordination are located deep within the skull, protected by the temporal bones of the skull. Therefore, these body parts are an important component in the on-going research into the causes of hearing loss and balance disorders.
Researchers only remove a small portion of the temporal bone, along with the hearing mechanism at death. Most noteworthy, their removal does not, in any way, affect the appearance of the donor’s face, outer ear or head.
How Is The Hearing Research Used?
Millions of people experience hearing loss brought on by a number of factors. Furthermore, different parts of the ear are affected by different disorders.
Conductive hearing loss (CHL) is a type of hearing loss caused by problems in the middle or outer ear. A condition that affects the tiny middle ear bones, CHL can be caused by trauma to the head or certain medical conditions like otosclerosis. Because of on-going research, conductive hearing loss can be helped with medical intervention or through the use of a hearing aid. Although common, conductive hearing loss is still not completely understood or treatable. So, research continues and improvements in individual hearing are measured.
A second type of hearing loss is sensorineural hearing loss, more commonly called nerve deafness. Especially relevant, nerve deafness is most commonly associated with aging, excessive noise exposure and unlucky genetics.
How do I enroll in the National Temporal Bone Donor Program?
Visit the National Temporal Bone Registry (www.tbregistry.org) and download the simple submission form consenting to become a donor. You can also contact the National Temporal Bone Registry using the contact information below.
For more information:
24-hour hotline (800) 822-1327 (voice)
TTY line: (800) 439-0183
Fax: (617) 573-3838
Write to them at:
The NIDCD National Temporal Bone Registry
Massachusetts Eye & Ear Infirmary
243 Charles Street
Boston, MA 02114-3096
Source: edited from the article The National Temporal Bone Registry: Give the Gift of Hearing (March 2009), www.healthhearing.com