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Last modified: Monday, June 1, 2009

Biomedical research, training at IU receives $3 million federal grant

June 1, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- In 1979 Chancellor's Professor David Pisoni brought the first two postdoctoral researchers to Indiana University Bloomington when he was awarded a five-year training grant by the National Institute of Neurological and Communicative Disorders. Today, the same grant supports six postdoctoral researchers, six doctoral students and six medical students in Bloomington and Indianapolis.

David Pisoni

Photo by Meg Gourley

David Pisoni

Print-Quality Photo

The training program, now funded by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), has received additional funding to continue through 2014 -- making it the longest existing training grant in NIDCD history. NIDCD will provide more than $3 million for training in biomedical research involving language delay, cognitive aging and hearing loss, and the use of sensory aids, such as cochlear implants and hearing aids.

"This grant is unique because it links basic science research and training in Bloomington with clinical work and training in Indianapolis, both at Riley Hospital and the IU School of Medicine," Pisoni said. "Significant efforts have been made to link departments and programs here with the medical school, and this strengthens life sciences on both campuses."

The research focuses on training in speech, hearing and sensory communication, and brings together a broad spectrum of life sciences areas, along with doctoral level and medical researchers in those fields. At IU Bloomington, the training includes the departments of psychological and brain sciences, linguistics, and speech and hearing sciences, and incorporates the Program in Neuroscience and the Cognitive Science Program. It also is the only training grant that now combines research in Bloomington with that of the IU School of Medicine at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

Overall, the program's objective is to provide highly specialized research training from the perspective of neuroscientists, who study the structure and function of the hearing mechanism, to that of psycholinguists, speech scientists and cognitive neuroscientists, who are interested in the functional properties of the linguistic message. Trainees leave the program with in-depth competence in various biomedical, psychological and linguistics areas. Their research gives them access to the recently upgraded Imaging Research Facility in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences as well as the Center for Neuroimaging in Radiology at the School of Medicine, which is used for both basic and clinical research.

Several pre- and postdoctoral students working under the grant both in Indianapolis and in Pisoni's Speech Research Laboratory in Bloomington have gone on to successful research careers at IU and elsewhere. Here at IU, Professor of Speech and Hearing Sciences Judith Gierut, who worked on the training grant as a postdoctoral researcher from 1985-87, said that this work was the best decision she made to advance her career.

"I was exposed to a lot of different literature that has served me very well today, in terms of placing my ideas from a very focused dissertation back into the bigger picture," she said.

Gierut said the training grant brings cutting edge researchers to campus, providing a tremendous opportunity for young researchers to network and place their own research into a larger context

Not only has the training grant helped researchers connect to these professionals, but it also has created a network of individuals who have worked under the grant in the past 30 years. Tessa Bent, assistant professor of speech and hearing sciences at IU Bloomington, learned about the program from Ann Bradlwo, her advisor at Northwestern University. Bradlow was a postdoctoral trainee in the Speech Research Laboratory from 1993-96 and is now a professor of linguistics at Northwestern.

"The training helped me to make connections in different areas, which ultimately helped me get a job," said Bent, who recently was awarded an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus grant from the NIH for her research into how children perceive different varieties of foreign-accented English. "I loved collaborating with postdocs from different backgrounds, and it was nice to have other people to bounce ideas off of and give practice talks to."

Rachael Holt, who is in her fifth year as an assistant professor in the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences, worked as a postdoctoral researcher under the grant from 2003-05. The grant helped her secure funding for her own project developing materials used to test perception in children who have cochlear implants.

"Training grants like this one allow people to do research in areas they're interested in, rather than doing specific work that is tied to a research grant," she said. "As a postdoc you can come in and work on anything you're interested in, not just do the work proposed."

  • Program faculty in Bloomington include: Pisoni, Chancellor's Professor of psychological and brain sciences and cognitive science, adjunct professor of linquistics, adjunct professor of speech and hearing sciences, and adjunct professor of otolaryngology -- head and neck surgery, IU School of Medicine; James C. Craig, Chancellor's Professor of psychological and brain sciences; Daniel A. Dinnsen, Chancellor's Professor of linguistics, professor of cognitive science and adjunct professor of speech and hearing sciences; Gierut, professor of speech and hearing sciences and cognitive science and adjunct professor of linquistics; Larry E. Humes, professor of speech and hearing sciences and adjunct professor of otolaryngology -- head and neck surgery, IU School of Medicine; and Dale Sengelaub, professor of psychological and brain sciences, neuroscience and biology.
  • Program faculty at the IU School of Medicine in Indianapolis include: Tonya Bergeson-Dana, assistant professor of otolaryngology -- head and neck surgery; Derek Houston, associate professor of otolaryngology -- head and neck surgery; Richard T. Miyamoto, Arilla Spence DeVault Professor of Otolaryngology -- head and neck surgery; and Andrew Saykin, professor of radiology, neurology and psychiatry.

For more information about Pisoni's Speech Research Laboratory, visit To speak with Pisoni, contact Jennifer Porter at 812-855-8897 and