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Working with the BBSRC: £4million boost for hearing research

In this blog Dr Ralph Holme, head of biomedical research at Action on Hearing Loss, tells us how the charity has teamed up with BBSRC to fund much-needed research into hearing loss and the auditory system.

The challenge

Hearing loss affects over 10 million people in the UK – one out of every six people. It can have a severe impact on people’s quality of life, leading to isolation from friends and family. It is also associated with dementia, depression and decreased physical wellbeing, and can hinder both education and employment. Despite the scale of the issue, medical interventions are largely limited to hearing aids and cochlear implants. Research into treatments to prevent loss of hearing and to restore natural function is significantly underfunded.

Strategic fit

The Lifelong Health and Wellbeing Programme  is a cross-research-council initiative to address the challenges and opportunities of an ageing population. The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) supports this initiative by encouraging research that will increase our understanding of the normal ageing processes.

As much of hearing loss is age-related - 70% of the population aged over 70 years has a hearing loss – we approached the BBSRC in 2013 to explore how we could work together to boost hearing research under the Lifelong Health and Wellbeing Programme.

We quickly recognised that there was a need to better understand how the auditory system develops and how hearing declines with age, in order for treatments to protect and restore hearing to be developed.

Working together to encourage high quality research proposals

In December 2013 we held a one-day workshop with the BBSRC to launch a joint Highlight Notice on the ‘Lifecourse of the Auditory System’. The Highlight Notice outlined the areas of research we wanted to encourage research proposals in and the workshop was a fantastic opportunity to bring researchers from across disciplines together to identify and discuss relevant research questions, share ideas and identify potential collaborators.

We had a great response from the research community to our call for proposals receiving 51 expressions of interest. Researchers whose expressions of interest were judged to be relevant to the Highlight Notice were then invited to submit full proposals to either the BBSRC’s responsive mode Project Grant scheme or to Action on Hearing Loss’ Project Grant scheme. Projects focused on normal development and ageing were taken by the BBSRC and those focused on disease or treatment were taken by Action on Hearing Loss. These projects were evaluated by peer review in competition with proposals from other areas, but they did benefit from a strategic uplift.

Of the 19 proposals put forward to the BBSRC under the Highlight Notice, seven have been funded, worth a total of £3.3m, and we have been able to fund an additional £700,000 worth of projects.

Great outcome

By working together, we have helped the BBSRC support a neglected area of research that directly addresses the challenges set out in the Lifelong Health and Wellbeing Programme. And because of an increase in the number of high quality hearing research proposals, three hearing research experts were recruited onto the BBSRC’s grant review committees.

We have also shone a light on the importance of research into the auditory system and together provided a welcomed £4million boost to hearing research.

For more information about how Action on Hearing Loss is supporting research into better treatments and cures for hearing loss, please see our website.