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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 November 2007, 08:43 GMT
Hearing loss 'costs UK 13.5bn'
By Geoff Adams-Spink
Age & disability correspondent, BBC News website

Photo of a futuristic hearing aid
RNID wants more to spent on new ideas on new devices
A leading charity - the Royal National Institute for Deaf people - says the economy could earn billions more if extra cash was spent on research.

It points out that just over 0.1% of the 13.5bn goes on research into "life-changing" treatments.

The organisation is holding a conference - Hearing the Future - to draw attention to what it calls the "drastic underfunding".

And it says that the pharmaceutical industry could also earn millions more.

The RNID is urging drugs companies, the voluntary and the public sectors to put more resources into finding ways of preventing or treating hearing loss.

'Immeasurable cost'

Impaired hearing, it says, leads to social withdrawal, isolation and depression.

"The cost to people's quality of life is inmeasurable," said Mark Downs, executive director of technology and entireprise at RNID.

He went on: "Hearing loss represents a massive, untapped opportunity for pharmaceutical companies who could transform lives and access a $1.5bn (750m) market by devoting more time and funds to hearing research."

RNID wants the public, voluntary and private sectors to work together to transform what it calls "promising research" into practical solutions for people who have difficulty interacting with the world around them.

Another of the speakers, Dr Jonathan Gale from University College, London's Ear Institute said that despite significant progress, more work was needed to develop biological approaches to restoring hearing.

"Critically, more research is needed to gain a better understanding of how the ear is built during normal development, how it responds to damage and what changes occur in the ear during ageing," he said.

"With appropriate levels of funding, the future for people who want to prevent hearing loss and restore 'lost' hearing is bright."

The RNID points out that hearing loss is the third most common chronic condition among older people after arthritis and high blood pressure.

It says that the projected increase in the numbers of older people make the case for funding research now even more compelling.

The conference, in central London, also heard about the latest thinking on how to deal with tinnitus, which devices might be available in the future to overcome hearing loss and about the benefits of genetic research in treating hearing impairments.

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