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February 20, 2003

Hearing hope for the deaf

From: BBC, UK - 20 Feb 2003

Ben Harrison has had hearing problems since he was a tiny baby.

His hearing loss has left him isolated from his school friends and his studies are suffering.

He's only seven years old, but has already had more than 10 operations on his ears.

His mum, Denise, says doctors failed to spot his problems at an early stage, allowing an infection in his ear to spread to the bone.

He now faces a three-hour operation, to be carried out on Thursday, to try to restore his hearing levels by rebuilding one of the bones in his ear.

New centre

It is hoped a new £9m centre, due to open in London next year, will ensure that children like Ben get earlier specialist treatment.

The University College London (UCL) research centre aims to restore hearing to the deaf and to prevent deafness in those at risk.

Denise is delighted that action is being taken to help improve the lives of the hearing impaired like her son.

"Ben lost his hearing from an early age and struggled throughout nursery.

"He could not interact. He said it was like he had a fuzzy head. He was very frustrated and people thought he was a naughty child because he used to shout so loud, but he just couldn't hear properly.

"We got him private tuition and he had one-to-one help at school as well to help him catch up.

"Children can be so cruel and he got teased at school."


The new centre, will be based next to the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital, on Gray's Inn Road, London.

Experts will work closely with the hospital, studying ear by using molecular, genetic, neuroscientific, biophysical and psychophysical approaches to treatment.

They will use a number of new techniques including using computer graphics to practise an operation before actually carrying it out on a patient.

Professor Andrew Forge, from the UCL, said the ultimate aim is to restore hearing to the deaf.

"We really think this new centre will be able to make a big difference to people with hearing problems.

"Our mission is to try and understand the ear from every angle - the molecular, the mechanical and how everything fits together.

"There's a good chance that in the near future we could begin to restore hearing to the deaf and prevent it in those who are at risk."

Dr Jonathan Gale, of UCL agreed that the work was vital.

"Deafness is the second most common disability in the UK, directly affecting about eight million people, so basic research into the mechanisms of hearing has clear scientific, medical and social value."