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Meet Dr Helen Henshaw, CRN East Midlands Co-Specialty Lead for ENT


Meet Dr Helen Henshaw, Senior Research Fellow at Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre, NIHR Academy Member (Career Development Fellow) and CRN Co-Specialty Lead for ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) for the CRN (Clinical Research Network) East Midlands.

Helen is from Nottingham, and graduated from Sheffield Hallam University before being awarded her PhD at the University of Leicester. Perhaps surprisingly, Helen’s background is in cognitive psychology and she began her career by focusing on visual memory research.

She soon switched from vision to hearing, and in 2009 she started work on the delivery of an auditory training study which explored whether computer-delivered listening games can be used to help people with hearing loss listen better, particularly in noisy and challenging listening situations. This work was recognised by the leading hearing research journal, Ear & Hearing, winning the editor’s award for best research paper of the year, and Helen has been involved in hearing research ever since.

Hearing loss in a condition that is on the rise. One is six people currently have demonstrable hearing loss; this is set to increase to one in five, partly because of demographic changes and an ageing population. Hearing loss can lead to social isolation and a negative impact on mental health, but there is also an impact on family and friends.

One particular challenge arises from the fact that hearing loss is gradual, meaning that people often do not notice the impact immediately. This is especially true for younger sufferers, and the reality is that people are often reluctant to use resources such as hearing aids.

In order to help tackle this growing problem, Helen is exploring how digital interventions can be used in the NHS and what the future of treatment for those suffering with hearing loss could look like. This could include supporting people acoustically, cognitively and psychosocially. But key to this is involving patients.

“We want to give patients the space and freedom to define a problem, and to work in partnership with them to come up with the solutions to address it,” Helen explains. “This will include introducing elements of cognitive and behavioural science, with an emphasis on early intervention to try and support those developing hearing loss.”

Helen decided to apply to be the Co-Specialty Lead for ENT partly because of the strong history that Nottingham BRC has for hearing research, something that she is determined to see continue to develop. Her competitive streak shines through as she declares a determination to making hearing research the most active research department at the BRC. She is particularly driven by a desire to provide more people with the opportunity to take part in trials.

Helen acknowledges that sometimes the structure of research can be confusing, and wants to use her expertise to help it make more sense for those involved.  “I want to make things less complicated, for patients but also for staff,” she says. “We need to make it easier for people to take part in research, and I will be using my role to help communicate information about research to people and encourage more people to take the first steps on their research journey

We look forward to working closely with Helen to meet these goals.