Centre for hearing loss research opens in Grand Falls-Windsor

The centre will focus on investigating genetic forms of hearing loss, in the hopes of finding better solutions for those affected.
There was a packed room for the announcement in Grand Falls-Windsor on Wednesday. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

Grand Falls-Windsor is now home to a research and development centre that focuses on genetic forms of hearing loss, in an effort to find better solutions for those affected.

A crowd was on hand Wednesday for the announcement at the Excite Corporation building in the town, as politicians announced $1 million of investment into the centre through ACOA, the provincial government, and Memorial University.

"This is a special day, because this is really about patient impact," said Terry-Lynn Young, a Memorial University professor who has spent more than a decade looking at specific genes that cause hearing loss in Newfoundland families, for the most part testing and visiting them at home.

"What we've never been able to do is actually bring in the families who have hearing loss, and have an in-depth look at what type of loss they have, and perhaps how we can make things better for their hearing aids," said Young.

Dr. Terry-Lynn Young says the work of the research centre will have an impact outside the province. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

Specialized facility

Young said the centre will involve not only Memorial University, but also McMaster University in Hamilton and Western University in London, Ont.

Young said the Genomic-Based R&D Centre for Hearing Science will allow families to visit the centre for testing with a state-of-the-art sound booth, currently being shipped from Montreal.

"The patients will come through this centre for some highly specialized testing, and we'll work with computer modellers at McMaster to put that type of deficit into a computer algorithm, and then incorporate that into hearing aids… and make the hearing aids better for people with different types of hearing loss, that's the idea," said Young.

"Nationally and internationally, people are now watching what we're doing because this is very unique."

ACOA has contributed more than $632,000 to the centre, with the province kicking in $190,000.

Why Grand Falls-Windsor?

Young said Newfoundlanders and Labradorians make ideal candidates for genomic study, because of their traditionally large families.

"We can see patterns of hearing loss, and patterns of other genetic disorders, as they pass through families," she said.

"We actually then have multiple generations that we can look at."

Newfoundland and Labrador has what's known as a 'founder population' — where 80-90 per cent of the population can trace their ancestry back to English or Irish settlers, another boon to genetic researchers.

Young said many of the large families needed for the study live either near Grand Falls-Windsor, or at least outside the St. John's area, so when the town approached the university a few years ago about possibly setting up some sort of facility, the idea made sense to the researchers.

"The whole idea is to make their lives better," she said.

With files from Chris Ensing