The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences has announced Susan D. Emmett, M.D., will lead its new Center for Hearing Health Equity. Emmett is an otolaryngologist and public health-trained researcher. In addition to obtaining a MPH, she also holds four grants from the National Institutes of Health. As an associate professor in the UAMS College of Medicine Department of Otolaryngology- Head and Neck Surgery, where the center is being established, Emmett has a secondary appointment in the Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health.
“Dr. Emmett is a star in our field, with a national and international reputation,” said department Chair, Dr. John Dornhoffer. “As one of the most successful NIH-funded ENT surgeons in the country, she will help UAMS quickly become a leader in research involving hearing health disparities both in Arkansas and abroad. I am extremely excited to have been able to recruit a physician scientist of her caliber.” Emmett will spend time seeing patients and performing cochlear implant surgery, but her main focus will be on research in hearing loss disparities, as an effort to improve the access to care for people and children in underserved areas.
According to the World Health Organization, 1.5 billion people worldwide experience a degree of hearing loss, with 60 percent of children’s hearing loss being preventable. “Childhood hearing loss has a lifelong impact,” Emmett said, citing effects on speech and language development, the ability to learn in school and later obtain a job. “But it could be prevented if we identify the problem early and make sure children have access to the care that they need. To tackle this problem takes thinking about this from several different perspectives.”
The Center for Hearing Health Equity is the only center of its kind in the world and will be home to two multi-center networks’ research, both conducted by Emmett. The Global Hearing Loss Evaluation, Advocacy and Research (HEAR) Collaborative includes a multidisciplinary group of investigators from 28 countries as an international research network. HEAR USA has six different sites as the United States HEAR Collaborative branch, both collaboratives are dedicated to the reduction of disparities in hearing loss across the country and worldwide.
Emmett will move her four NIH grants to UAMS from Duke University School of Medicine, where she earned her medical degree in 2010, and most recently served as an associate professor of surgery and global health. Of these grants, three are HEAR Collaborative endeavors, including two randomized trials that when combined, involve more than 20,000 children in about 1000 schools in Appalachia, Kentucky and rural Alaska.
Emmett is partnering with both industry and academic partners in South Africa for the third HEAR Collaborative grant, which will help in developing an inexpensive, portable tool in order to check for middle ear infections, which often can be a precursor to hearing loss. The cell phone-based screening device can be used by teachers, or community health workers, in order to screen children in schools, because audiologists with advanced degrees are a scarce resource in rural and underserved areas.
“There is no standardized method across the country to screen children for hearing loss,” Emmett said, emphasizing that even once rural children with hearing loss are identified, they often never receive the care that they need. “Our plan is to change that, and completely alter the paradigm for detecting hearing loss early and ensuring access to treatment. My goal is to eventually eliminate preventable childhood hearing loss through early detection and effective intervention.” For more information regarding UAMS, visit its website.