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Deafness and Hearing problems

Hearing loss now

Currently over 11 million adults in the UK are affected by hearing loss, one in six of the population, putting hearing loss in the top 20 causes of disease. The economic impact of hearing loss to the UK is estimated at £30 billion per year due to its effect on employability, health and associated healthcare costs.

Hearing loss in the future

With our ageing population, the number of older people with hearing loss is set to increase. It is estimated that by 2030 hearing loss will affect 1 in 5 people and will be in the top 10 of disease burdens in the UK, above cataracts and diabetes. Importantly hearing loss has been identified as an important risk factor for dementia: mild hearing loss doubles the risk of developing dementia, with severe hearing loss increasing that risk to five times. As a result, it is urgent that new hearing therapies are developed and made available to patients. 

Our research

The aim of our Deafness and Hearing problems theme is to develop and deliver targeted and transformative therapies to prevent or alleviate deafness and hearing problems and to regenerate the hearing system. To achieve this, we will target four key areas:

  1. Identifying clinical phenotypes and genes that underlie deafness and other hearing problems such as tinnitus;
  2. Unravelling the molecular, cellular and physiological mechanisms of deafness and other hearing conditions;
  3. Identifying and developing therapeutic targets for hearing loss and hearing regeneration;
  4. Tailoring interventions (drugs, genes, devices and behaviour) to individual patients' needs.


Here are some examples of activities currently underway in the Deafness and Hearing problems theme. This section will be updated as the theme progresses;

REGAIN clinical trial: Ear Nose and Throat surgeons and trial experts from our BRC are about to commence a first-in-human study of a novel drug aimed at restoring hearing in patients with adult onset sensorineural hearing loss. 

Damage to the sensory hair cells in the cochlea is the major cause of this type of hearing loss which has long been thought to be irreversible. Recent preclinical studies have shown that new and functioning hair cells can be generated through local treatment with a gamma-secretase inhibitor. These results form the basis for the REGAIN trial, scheduled to start at the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital in summer 2017. The trial will test if this treatment is safe to use in patients with hearing loss and if so, whether it improves hearing in people who have acquired hearing loss at adult age. The project is supported by an EU Horizon 2020 award and is a collaboration between teams in the UK, Germany, Greece, The Netherlands and Denmark. 

EVOTION project: This study will collect real life big data from people who use hearing aids with the aim to develop a platform for integrated decision support and holistic hearing loss management health policies. Hearing aid users will be provided with smart hearing aids, mobile phones and sensors that will collect dynamic hearing and health data. The study is scheduled to start at the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital in autumn 2017. The project is supported by an EU Horizon 2020 award and is a collaboration between teams in the UK, Greece, Denmark, Poland, Croatia, Bulgaria, Italy and Switzerland.

Infrastructure & Organisation 

The Deafness and Hearing problems theme builds on the unique partnership of the UCL Ear Institute and the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital (RNTNEH). The RNTNEH is the only dedicated ENT hospital in the UK, and one of a few worldwide. With the hospital soon to move into a new state-of-the-art building at the UCLH campus; and with dedicated clinical research space and adjacent to the UCLH Clinical Research Facility, this partnership provides the infrastructure and excellence to deliver world-leading translational research in the field of hearing loss.

Patient and Public Involvement 

We are always keen to provide patients and members of the public with opportunities to get actively involved in our research. Our Deafness and Hearing problems theme has formed an active lay panel that meets bi-annually and we always welcome new members. For more information on how you, as a patient or a member of the public, can become involved in our research, contact Dr Lucy Handscomb l.handscomb@ucl.ac.uk.