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Researchers Land $1.6 Million Grant to Study Ear Infections, Hearing Loss

Five-year funding will help Medical College and Children's Hospital team explore new treatments for ear infections that are a common cause of hearing loss in young children.

Ear infections are a common childhood episode, painful for the patient and worrisome for parents. But most people don't realize how damaging they can be for some young people, leading to permanent hearing loss.

The and Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin Research Institute in Wauwatosa have received a five-year, $1.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study will investigate ear infections and explore potential new treatments.

The grant comes through the NIH's National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

The principal investigator for the grant study will be Joseph E. Kerschner, professor of otolaryngology and communication sciences, dean of the medical school and executive vice president of the Medical College, otolaryngologist at Children’s Hospital, and researcher at the Research Institute.

Infections of the middle ear are the most frequent diagnosis in pediatric patients in the United States, affecting more than 90 percent of all children by age 5.

They are also the most common cause of hearing loss in young children, which can lead to speech, language, educational and other developmental delays. Treatment in the United States consumes more than 30 million clinical visits each year and more than $5 billion in health care expenditures. 

Kerschner's study will investigate mucins, which are fluids that build up behind the eardrums in some children following ear infections, causing hearing loss.   Using clinical specimens, animal models and cellular models, molecular techniques will be used to better understand how mucins form in children with chronic ear infections. 

Kerschner is collaborating with the Center for Genomic Sciences in Pittsburgh on the project. Additional collaborators in Kerschner’s laboratory at MCW include Wenzhou Hong, assistant professor of otolaryngology; Pippa Simpson, professor and director of quantitative health sciences; Kristina Keppel, pediatric otolaryngologist at Children’s Hospital; P.J. Khampang, research associate; and Christy Erbe, lab manager.

This research will advance knowledge of this disease toward the long-term goal of developing new therapies to treat ear infections and prevent them from causing hearing loss and other serious complications.

About the Medical College of Wisconsin

The Medical College of Wisconsin is the state’s only private medical school and health sciences graduate school. Founded in 1893, it is dedicated to leadership and excellence in education, patient care, research and service. More than 1,200 students are enrolled in the Medical College’s medical school and graduate school programs.

A major national research center, it is the largest research institution in the Milwaukee metro area and second largest in Wisconsin. In FY 2010–11, faculty received more than $175 million in external support for research, teaching, training and related purposes, of which more than $161 million is for research. This total includes highly competitive research and training awards from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Annually, College faculty direct or collaborate on more than 2,200 research studies, including clinical trials. Additionally, more than 1,350 physicians provide care in virtually every specialty of medicine for more than 400,000 patients annually.

About Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin

Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin is the region’s only independent health care system dedicated solely to the health and well-being of children. The hospital, with locations in Milwaukee and Neenah, Wis. is recognized as one of the leading pediatric health care centers in the United States.

Children’s Hospital provides primary care, specialty care, urgent care, emergency care, community health services, foster and adoption services, child and family counseling, child advocacy services and family resource centers. In 2010, Children’s Hospital invested more than $105 million in the community to improve the health status of children through medical care, advocacy, education and pediatric medical research.

Children’s Hospital achieves its mission in part through donations from individuals, corporations and foundations and is proud to be a Children’s Miracle Network Hospital. For more information, visit the website at chw.org.

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