Dr. Charles Liberman, PhD, whose research forever changed the way experts understand the underlying causes of hearing loss, received the Grand Prix Scientifique from the France-based Fondation Pour l’Audition.
The award is one of the highest honors bestowed in hearing science and was presented to Dr. Liberman at a ceremony in Paris, France on October 20, 2022. The Grand Prix Scientifique is endowed with compensation of €100,000.
The Fondation Pour l’Audition is a public utility foundation that is committed to uniting research, health and the prevention of hearing diseases. As part of this mission, it rewards and supports pioneering hearing researchers.
Dr. Liberman, Harold F. Schuknecht Professor of Otorhinolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery at Harvard Medical School, previously served as Director of Eaton-Peabody Laboratories at Mass Eye and Ear for more than 25 years, where he remains a researcher. During his five-decade career, Dr. Liberman has conducted cutting-edge research into the pathological causes of hearing loss rooted in the inner ear. In 2009, Dr. Liberman co-discovered a phenomenon called cochlear synaptopathy, also known as “hidden hearing loss”, a landmark discovery that has since informed the global understanding of the causes of hearing loss.
Dr. Liberman’s research has upended the dogma of what was known about the cause of hearing loss in the inner ear, and this work has had a profound and lasting impact on the field of hearing science. His work and leadership at Mass Eye and Ear has established Eaton-Peabody Laboratories as the world’s premier center for hearing research, and we congratulate him on this well-deserved recognition of his impressive career and lasting contributions. »
Mark A. Varvares, MD, FACS, Chief of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at Mass Eye and Ear and John W. Merriam/William W. Montgomery Professor and Chairman of Otolaryngology -head and neck surgery at Harvard Medical School
Transformative discovery of hidden hearing loss
Hearing loss affects more than 5% of the world’s population, or about 430 million people, according to the World Health Organization.
One of the most common complaints hearing care professionals receive from patients is difficulty hearing in noisy environments. However, many of these patients do not have measurable hearing deficits on an audiogram, widely considered the gold standard hearing test. The audiogram measures the loss of hair cells, the sensory cells inside the inner ear. Dr. Liberman and Sharon Kujawa, PhD, Sheldon and Dorothea Buckler Chair in Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at Mass Eye and Ear and Professor of Otolaryngology-Head Surgery and neck at Harvard Medical School, discovered the basis for this discrepancy in 2009 when their seminal study showed that noise exposure and aging first damage synapses, which connect hair cells to auditory nerve fibers and ultimately transmit neural signals to the brain. This hearing impairment is now known as cochlear synaptopathy. Since audiograms measure hair cell function, this synaptic loss is usually undocumented, inspiring the popular term “hidden hearing loss.”
Dr. Liberman’s research has also shown that it is possible to successfully restore connections between hair cells and auditory nerve fibers in animal models by administering therapeutics called neurotrophins. This work has led biotech companies to develop new therapies to treat hearing loss in people.
About Dr. Liberman
Dr. Liberman earned a doctorate in physiology from Harvard University in 1976 before joining Mass Eye and Ear as a research associate. He was named director of Eaton-Peabody Laboratories in 1996, helping to foster immense growth and an endowment that reached $12 million for hearing research. Dr. Liberman also served as Vice President of Basic Research for the Department of Otorhinolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery from 2011 to 2022. He is a past President of the Association for Ear, Nose and Throat Research. laryngology.
Dr. Liberman has authored over 200 peer-reviewed articles throughout his career. He and his colleagues continue to study hidden hearing loss and other hearing conditions, such as tinnitus, in hopes of developing more sensitive tests and new treatments. Future research led by Dr. Liberman will be split between a National Institutes of Health (NIH) P50 collaborative grant on hidden hearing loss and an NIH R01 individual grant on mechanisms and potential treatments for noise-induced hearing loss in animal models.
Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary