Dr. Daniel Merfeld Named 'Vestibular Medicine Champion'

September 17, 2014

Contact: Mary Leach

PORTLAND, OR. (Sept. 17, 2014) -- The Vestibular Disorders Association (VEDA) has awarded a VEDA Champion of Vestibular Medicine award to Daniel Merfeld, Ph.D., director of the Jenks Vestibular Physiology Laboratory at Massachusetts Eye and Ear and professor of otolaryngology at Harvard Medicine School.

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Dr. Daniel Merfeld

The VEDA Champion of Medicine Award was given as part of an initiative to increase awareness of vestibular (inner ear and balance) disorders. This is the first year the award has been given.

Other honorees include Carey Balaban, Ph.D., of the University of Pittsburg, and Carol A Foster, M.D., of the University of Colorado. The awardees will be recognized during recognized during Balance Awareness Week, which takes place Sept. 15 through 21.

“Champions of Vestibular Medicine are medical professionals who have had significant impact on increasing awareness of vestibular disorders,” says Cynthia Ryan, VEDA’s executive director. “Thanks to their leadership we’re seeing new diagnostic tools and treatment protocols that help reduce diagnosis times and increase treatment effectiveness.”

An accomplished neuroengineer and psychophysicist, Dr. Merfeld is the founding Director of the Jenks Vestibular Physiology Laboratory. Performing basic and translational vestibular research, Dr. Merfeld has shown that tilt and translation perception result from multisensory signal convergence. Much of his early research focused on understanding how the brain processes ambiguous sensory information, with a specific focus on how signals from the otolith organs in the inner ear are interpreted and processed by the nervous system. His research has shown that the nervous system uses rotational signals from canals in the inner ear to help us keep track of the relative orientation of gravity. More recently, his research showed for the first time that vestibular “perception” and “action” can use qualitatively different neural mechanisms.

Recent research focuses on the measurement of thresholds, which is one way to assay vestibular “noise” so that we can learn how vestibular information is processed in the presence of noise. His most recent research focuses on understanding how the brain processes information in the presence of noise.

“So many vestibular patients suffer for years before receiving an accurate diagnosis, if they ever get one,” says Sheelah Woodhouse, President of VEDA’s board of directors. “VEDA’s number one goal is to reduce the time it takes to diagnose a vestibular disorder. We want to shine a light on this invisible illness so that vestibular patients don’t feel so alone.”

About Vestibular Disorders
The vestibular system includes the parts of the inner ear and brain that process the sensory information involved with controlling balance and eye movements. If disease or injury damages these processing areas, vestibular disorders can result. Vestibular disorders can also result from or be worsened by genetic or environmental conditions. Many occur for unknown reasons.

One large epidemiological study estimates that as many as 35% of adults aged 40 years or older in the United States — approximately 69 million Americans — have experienced some form of vestibular dysfunction.

(information for this release provided by VEDA)