Hearing loss

Hearing loss is a major public health problem requiring urgent action: one in six of the UK population (equivalent to 11 million people) lives with hearing loss making it the most common sort of sensory loss, affecting peoples’ ability to communicate and function in society. This condition increases social isolation and substantially increases the risk of suffering from depression. Recent evidence has shown hearing loss in midlife is associated with increased cognitive decline and dementia. 

There is little understanding of why some people get hearing loss while others do not and a clearer understanding of this process could help develop bespoke preventative strategies for individual patients. While hearing aids are effective in reducing the impact of hearing loss, they are infrequently provided and in a large proportion of those provided free NHS hearing aids they are rarely used. Better targeting of hearing aids to those that would benefit and are likely to use them could help allocate resources more effectively. 

The most common form of hearing loss in adults is called sensorineural hearing loss, caused by dysfunction of the inner or hearing pathways in the brain. In this field, major scientific breakthroughs have allowed for the discovery of new therapeutic targets and treatments that can protect, restore and regenerate hearing. This has, for the first time opened the door for precision medicine in hearing loss, where hearing treatments are targeted to its underlying cause. Successful development and implementation of these emerging and transformative treatments in the NHS will rely largely on the availability and integration of routinely collected multifaceted health data of patients with hearing loss. 

Aims of the theme:

The aim of the Hearing Loss theme is to make better use of patient health data captured in hospital records by collecting data in a standardised and integrated manner across UK sites and setting up a structure for sharing and anonymous analysis of these data. This is key to the development and testing of new hearing treatments that will allow for precision medicine where patients will receive treatments tailored to their underlying cause of hearing loss and clinical needs. 

The Hearing loss theme will develop the infrastructure and governance for management and integration of patient health data, including phenotypical and ‘omics’ data, across UK sites. This will allow for:

  1. the identification of novel risk factors for hearing loss
  2. exploration disease clustering and multimorbidity trajectories
  3. definition of hearing loss sub-types 
  4. patient stratification for clinical trials and future treatments 
  5. optimum patient benefit from targeted treatment strategies 

Lead centres:

Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust

University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust