Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog

How the NIDCD Was Won

Sometimes by serendipity, we have the ability to meet people who have paved the way for us. Today, I was able to briefly meet Gerry Fox, a concerned citizen and lobbyist who was primarily responsible for the inception of the NIDCD (who funds us).

There are many division of the National Institute of Health (NIH), and one of these funds the type of work I do, the National Institute for Deafness and Communication Disorders (NIDCD). This wasn’t always the case, though; prior to the existence of the NIDCD, all hearing-related research petitioned for funding from National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). Hearing-related research was badly underfunded, and submitted grants were lumped in competition with all brain-related disorders so often times there were no experts on hearing who reviewed the grants. This all changed in 1988, due to the lobbying of many concerned scientists, citizens, and politicians–one of the main ones was a lady names Gerry Fox.

Gerry Fox was a music teacher who one day woke up deaf, a case of ‘sudden acute hearing loss.’ Strange that it can happen, but it can. She then became fiercely interested in developing a Deafness Institute separate from the NINDS, so deafness-related grants could get more expert attention as well as better funding. She began lobbying, and in 1988 the NIDCD was established, which more than doubled the available funds for hearing-related research. This was fantastic for the field, and the grants soon began to pour in. But after a few years a trend emerged (that is still present to an extent today)–the NIDCD funded research that was established and “safe”(read, “boring”) while rejecting ideas that were seen as risky or too experimental. As a result, the field was advancing slowly. In response to this, Gerry Fox formed the National Organization for Hearing Research (NOHR), whose foundation raises money for riskier but high-payoff science, such as hair cell regeneration.

Its always interesting to see yourself as a part of a bigger picture, to meet the people who have helped you in ways that you’d never know. Who have lit fires that now warm you.