Early History and Vision
The stage was set in 1988 when a multi-million dollar competitive award from the National Institutes of Health was awarded to the University of Washington for the study of hearing and auditory research. One of the eight senior investigators whose work was propelled by this grant, Dr. Edwin Rubel, made the astonishing discovery that chickens regenerate the hair cells that are essential to hearing. As humans are not able to do this, hope for the regeneration of hearing was sparked. When a newspaper article about Dr. Rubel’s hair cell regeneration work appeared, local philanthropist Prentice Bloedel was intrigued.
Virginia Merrill Bloedel, Mr. Bloedel’s wife, had been the victim of progressive hearing loss until her death in 1989. The Bloedels, while not hopeful of a cure for Mrs. Bloedel, wanted to advance research for the sake of other hearing-impaired people. The endowment that they were inspired to make created what is now the Virginia Merrill Bloedel Hearing Research Center.
They knew that the University of Washington would provide fertile ground for the research center that they so generously and unselfishly funded.
Since the 1970s, UW scientists have made major contributions to research in communication disorders. In the past ten to fifteen years, advances in biological techniques and computer technology have further hastened progress. We’ve made significant advances in many areas of human communication, such as inner ear hair cell regeneration, cochlear implants, hearing development, testing methods for children and disabled individuals, and otoacoustic emissions.