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ARRA Investments in Balance and Balance Disorders Research

Public Health Burden
A balance disorder is a disturbance that causes an individual to feel unsteady, woozy, or have a sensation of movement, spinning, or floating. It is estimated that more than 40 percent of Americans will experience dizziness that is serious enough to go to a doctor. Also, balance (or vestibular) problems are among the most common reasons that older adults seek help from a doctor and are reported in about nine percent of the population who are 65 years of age or older. Fall-related injuries such as breaking (or fracturing) a hip are a leading cause of death and disability in older individuals. Many of these hip fractures are related to balance disorders.

An organ in our inner ear, the labyrinth, is an important part of our vestibular system. The labyrinth interacts with other systems in the body, such as the visual (eyes) and skeletal (bones and joints) systems, to maintain the body’s position. These systems, along with the brain and the nervous system, can be the source of balance problems. Because of the complexity of balance disorder, treatment can involve many options, such as medication, exercise, diet, or surgery. A variety of ARRA-funded grants are exploring potential treatments.
  • Research is underway to develop a prototype vestibular prosthesis that can be used to reduce symptoms such as imbalance, spatial disorientation and blurred vision in individuals with balance disorders. The ARRA funds will be used to purchase new laboratory equipment to control the motion devices used to assay the effectiveness of the prototype prosthesis.1
  • Scientists are developing a multichannel, head-mounted prosthesis able to encode three-dimensional head rotation from electrical stimulation of the vestibular nerve. This will lead to the design of a neuro-electronic device that restores vestibular sensation to individuals with balance disorders. Additional research funds will be used to hire engineers to accelerate the research progress.2
Basic Research
To determine the cause of vestibular disorders, scientist must learn more on how the vestibular system interacts with the other systems of the body. To lay the basis for diagnosing and treating balance disorders, NIH ARRA funds supported basic research in the vestibular system.
  • Research is needed to identify the genes and proteins in the sensory hair cells that are responsible for the generation and propagation of sensory information, such as balance and hearing, in the ear. Scientists will determine the identity of a family of genes which may play a role in converting balance and sound stimuli into electrical signals to the brain.3
  • Scientists are studying mouse models to determine the mutations in genes that are involved in encoding for proteins that are necessary for the development and function of the vestibular system. A better understanding of the vestibular system is needed in order to develop treatments for vertigo, dizziness and imbalance.4

  1. 3R01DC008362-01A1S1 -- Vestibular Prosthesis Testing in a Vestibulopathic Model -- Lewis, Richard F (MA)
  2. 3R01DC009255-02S1 -- Electrical Stimulation to Restore Three Dimensional Vestibular Sensation -- Della Santina, Charles C (MD)
  3. 3R01DC005439-06A2S1 -- Ion Channel Functions in Auditory and Vestibular Hair Cells -- Holt, Jeffrey R (VA)
  4. 3R01DC007431-04S1 -- NADPH Oxidase Complexes in Mammalian Vestibular Function -- Bergstrom, David E (ME)

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