This application requests funds to establish a training program in auditory and vestibular neuroscience at the University of Pittsburgh. Resources to support two predoctoral and two postdoctoral trainees per year are requested. While considerable progress has been made in identifying the genetic and molecular bases of inner ear deficits, the biological bases of centrally-generated hearing and balance disorders are still hardly understood. The proposed program is intended to generate auditory and vestibular scientists who can address these problems, through training in basic neuroscience and the clinical aspects of hearing and balance disorders. A group of eleven preceptors who are committed to auditory and vestibular neuroscience research and to recruit and educate outstanding pre- and postdoctoral fellows will comprise the training faculty. The research methodology employed by the preceptors ranges from cellular and molecular to developmental to systems and cognition, such that trainees can incorporate a variety of different techniques in their experiments. In addition to conducting research, trainees will take a specialized course focused on vestibular and auditory neuroscience, attend weekly journal clubs, and participate in a series of professional development workshops that provide explicit training in such "survival skills" as written and oral communication, obtaining jobs and grants, teaching, and managing a research lab. All trainees must submit a fellowship application as part of the program, the writing of which will be facilitated by periodic meetings with a local committee that provides advice and guidance. Training in the responsible scientific conduct is an integral part of the professional development workshops, the core curriculum, and laboratory training. A solid structure is in place to mentor the trainees and monitor their progress through the program.
Hearing and balance disorders affect a large percentage of our population. About 30-35 percent of adults between the ages of 65 and 75 years have a hearing loss, and it is estimated that about 50 million US citizens experience tinnitus in their lifetime. Balance disorders are also prevalent in the population, particularly amongst the elderly. More than one in three people age 65 years or older fall each year, and falls are the leading cause of hospitalization amongst the elderly. The proposed program will train the next generation of scientists to provide cures for hearing and balance disorders.
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