About Us

Founded in 1956 by Dr. George E. Shaumbaugh, Jr. in Chicago, The American Hearing Research Foundation serves two vital roles: to fund significant research in hearing and balance disorders, and to help educate the public about hearing loss and balance disorders related to the inner ear.

The AHRF funds 5 to 10 research projects per year, with an average grant of $20,000. These research projects cover a wide range of research areas and are conducted with the hopes that we might better understand how we lose hearing and balance functions, how we regain them, and, most importantly, how to preserve the function we still have. We also fund the Wiley H. Harrison, MD grant in conjuction with CORE of the American Academy of Otolaryngology — Head & Neck Surgery. This grant is $25,000 for one year of research. Please see our list of Previously Funded Grants to view currently sponsored research.

A Brief History of the American Hearing Research Foundation

The American Hearing Research Foundation has had a strong grounding in research, even before it became an official foundation. The AHRF can actually trace its roots back to the first operation performed to restore hearing. In 1938, the future founder of what is now known as the American Hearing Research Foundation, Dr. George E. Shambaugh, Jr. (1903-1999), took part in developing and performing the first successful surgical technique to restore hearing. He performed the first fenestration operation together with Dr. Julius Lempert (1890-1968). Fenestration was a surgical procedure that restored hearing to patients with otosclerosis—a condition where spongy bone grows in the middle ear later preventing the vibration of small bones (stapes) crucial for hearing. Fenestration has now been replaced by procedures that remove the damaged stapes bone and implant an artificial one—another class of procedures, called stapedectomies, that researchers associated with the AHRF have developed.

In 1940, a grant from the Chicago Community Trust for $10,000 was used to construct and equip a laboratory at Wesley Memorial Hospital, located in Chicago, to perfect the fenestration technique. In 1942, grants from the John and Mary R. Markle Foundation of New York kept the lab going and helped establish a temporal bone histopathology laboratory. The temporal bone is part of the skull that encloses the hearing and balance systems within the inner ear.

In 1944, gifts from grateful patients of Dr. Shambaugh and Dr. Eugene L. Derlacki, a co-founder of the AHRF and a prominent otolaryngologist, helped them construct and equip a hearing clinic at Northwestern University Medical School, the first clinic of its kind where numerous diagnostic procedures were developed.

The establishment of the clinic led to the creation of the Mid West Hearing Foundation in 1956, which would later become the American Hearing Research Foundation. The timeline below lists highlights and accomplishments of the Foundation, and its evolution under various names to reflect a broadening in geographical scope.

  • 1956  Mid West Hearing Foundation is established to accept tax-deductible gifts from patients for the support of continued research by Dr. Shambaugh, Dr. Derlacki and their associates.
  • 1956  A tissue culture laboratory is established at Northwestern University to study living cells of the inner ear.
  • 1957  Researchers demonstrate how damaged auditory nerve fibers regenerate on film. This leads to improved methods of repairing severed nerves.
  • 1959, 1963, 1967, 1971, 1976  Five international workshops for otologic surgeons are held at Northwestern University, sponsored by the Mid West Hearing Foundation and later its successor, the Mid America Hearing Foundation, and the American Hearing Research Foundation.
  • 1966  As its reach and influence expand, the Mid West Hearing Foundation is renamed the Mid America Hearing Research Foundation.
  • 1967  An ENG (electronystagmography) research laboratory is established at 55 East Washington Street in Chicago to study balance disorders related to the inner ear.
  • 1968  The George A. Brakely Co. of New York is employed to perform a feasibility study regarding national fund raising for potential research related to hearing impairment.
  • 1969  A favorable report by Brakely & Co. and their recommendations lead to the establishment of the first Foundation office at 55 East Washington Street in Chicago. William Z. Cline is hired as a full-time executive director.
  • 1970  A cytotoxic food testing laboratory is established to study the relationship between food allergies and hearing loss, Meniere’s disease, and perforated ears.
  • 1970  Publishes first AHRF newsletter, a quarterly publication, to inform the hearing impaired of new research.
  • 1971  William L. Lederer succeeds William Z. Cline as executive director of the Foundation.
  • 1972  Women’s Board is formed to raise funds for hearing research and hearing health education.
  • 1972  AHRF begins funding research projects throughout Canada and the United States.
  • 1972  First Ear Homograft Laboratory in the Midwest is established by Dr. Derlacki at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. This lab processes, stores, and supplies otologic surgeons with tissues from the ear including ear drum membranes and the middle ear bones (malleus, incus, and stapes), to be implanted in patients with hearing loss related to the damage of these structures. From 1972 through 1981, only 2 percent of the 300 ear homograft transplants performed were rejected.
  • 1975  The Mid America Hearing Research Foundation is renamed the American Hearing Research Foundation.
  • 1975  An Electrocochleography Laboratory is established at Mercy Medical Center with support from the AHRF. Electrocochleography measures the electrical signals that are generated in the inner ear in response to sound. This diagnostic tool allows physicians to objectively test infants—or others who are unable to answer questions regarding their hearing—for hearing loss.
  • 1975 It is discovered that sodium fluoride in moderate dosages can promote healing of fractures and prevent osteoporosis and can arrest progressive deafness due to otosclerosis, or softening of the bones in the inner ear.
  • 1976  “Deafness: The Invisible Divider,” a film funded by the AHRF, is awarded the first prize in the public health film category of the 24th Annual Columbus Film Festival. By distorting sound and showing everyday encounters of people with hearing impairment, the film allows the viewer to experience life as someone with hearing loss. The film is produced by Mrs. George E. Shambaugh.
  • 1977 – 1981  Conducted annual mid-winter symposia in Snowmass, Colorado for ear, nose, and throat specialists around the world.
  • 1977  The Temporal Bone Laboratory is established. Temporal bones (the entire middle and inner ear) are harvested from deceased people with known hearing loss or ear disease while living. The tissues are preserved for study. This lab participates in the nationwide Temporal Bone Bank Program.
  • 1978  The Electrocochleography Laboratory at Chicago’s Mercy Hospital is renamed the Donald T. Forsythe Otologic Neurophysiology Laboratory in honor of AHRF chairman. Dr. Jack D. Clemis, a member of the AHRF Board of Directors, is the lab’s director.
  • 1979  Acoustic Reflex Latency Testing is developed. This technique is a simplified neurophysiologic test to diagnose tumors and other ear diseases.
  • 1980  The AHRF begins its otologic fellowship program which encompasses medical post-doctoral physicians worldwide.
  • 1983  AHRF establishes the Roy W. Davis & Harry S. Himmel Hearing Research Laboratory in conjunction with Kiwanis International and Northwestern University.
  • 1983  Brainstem auditory evoked response (BAER) test is developed to test hearing loss in infants and very young children. The test measures responses in brain waves that are stimulated by a clicking sound to check the central auditory (hearing) pathways of the brainstem.
  • 1984  A $40,000 grant from the Kiwanis International Foundation establishes a laboratory at Chicago’s Seigel Institite at Michael Reese Hospital and Medical Center, where projects concentrating on solving the major problems otolaryngologists and audiologists deal with in their clinical practice are undertaken.
  • 1985  The AHRF’s Binaural Hearing Project is awarded a three-year grant of $140,000 from the National Institutes of Health. The project investigates the effects of middle ear lesions and middle ear surgery on the ability to localize sound.
  • 1988  Funded five to 15 research projects per year from 1988 to present in the United States and Canada.
  • 1990  The Foundation initiates a call for research proposals from researchers at universities and university-affiliated clinics and hospitals throughout the United States and Canada. Since this date, the Foundation has funded 154 research projects on hearing and balance disorders related to the inner ear.
  • 1991  Georgia Birtman, a school teacher with a hearing impairment and a long-time supporter of the AHRF, leaves the Foundation $2.1 million when she died.
  • 1997  AHRF established its website www.american-hearing.org. Fifty-three articles on hearing and balance disorders related to the inner ear are posted on the website and reviewed frequently to them keep up-to-date.
  • 2000  establishment of the Georgia Birtman Grant, a one-year $25,000 grant to support research and education in otology and neurotology. It is funded by the AHRF and the Northwestern Memorial Foundation.
  • 2005  Funds from the Birtman Fund, the Foundation and the Northwestern Memorial Foundation totaling $75,000 are set aside to fund a post-doctoral fellow doing cutting-edge research at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
  • 2006  AHRF celebrates 50th anniversary