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Network Exploring Links Between Infant Ear Infections and Speech Development

OTTAWA, April 24, 2021 - According to a recent article in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, children hospitalized with ear infections are less likely to need further surgery if they undergo a two-part procedure, instead of traditional tube surgery. This is the conclusion of a team led by Dr. Peter Coyte of the University of Toronto and a senior researcher with the Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network, one of Canada's 21 Networks of Centres of Excellence.

'Our conclusions could greatly assist in understanding and fostering the social and personal development of Canadian children,' says Dr. Coyte. 'And the benefits to Canada could be significant. Ear infections, for example, are the most common reason for visits by children to physicians and cost the Canadian economy over $600 million annually.'

When medical therapy fails, the standard treatment for ear infections is a myringotomy, or the removal of excess fluid from the middle ear through an eardrum incision. This is followed by the insertion of tiny tubes to maintain proper drainage of the infected fluid. Instead, Dr. Coyte recommends the removal of the adenoid glands (an adenoidectomy), in conjunction with appropriate drainage. This procedure has shown to reduce the need for further surgery and hospital re-admissions.

Dr. Coyte emphasizes that his findings (which appear in the April 19 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine) should not be interpreted as a recommendation for the routine addition of adenoidectomies to treat children's ear infections. 'The intent of my colleagues and I is to better inform physicians and parents who are weighing the extra risks of surgery against the demonstrated benefits. The question of which children would benefit most from an adenoidectomy remains unresolved.'

This study is one of several complementary research initiatives being undertaken by the Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network that may hold the key to better understanding and encourage infant speech, language and literacy development.

Susan Rvachew and Linda Polka of McGill University and Kathleen Bloom of the University of Waterloo are seeking to improve understanding of what happens during the first two years of life to develop preventative mother and child treatments. They are documenting the ability of babies with ear infections to discriminate between and make basic speech sounds that we normally think of as incoherent 'babbling'.

According to Rvachew, 'The risk for long-term problems with language development increases with the earlier onset of ear infections.' The removal of the adenoid glands (the procedure investigated by Dr. Coyte) could, therefore, reduce the incidence of ear infections and enhance the development of a baby's vocabulary and native language sound system.

The focus of the newly formed Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network is to improve language and literacy skills in children. The goal is to ensure that children are better equipped in school, reducing the likelihood of social problems and helping them contribute effectively as adults to Canadian society. The Network engages 96 researchers and 73 participating organizations across Canada. Its CEO and Scientific Director is Donald G. Jamieson of The University of Western Ontario.

The importance of The Network's activities is underlined by recent Statistics Canada reports, which indicate that more than 20% of Canadian high school graduates lack the literacy skills needed for entry-level jobs and experience difficulties reading even simple texts for comprehension.

There are currently 21 Networks of Centres of Excellence, unique partnerships among more than 1,100 industrial, academic and governmental organizations. These nation-wide networks connect excellent research with industrial know-how and practical investment. Their research accounts for 10% of university spin-off companies and in 1999-2000, contributed to the development of over 3,600 highly qualified professionals.

'The networks develop innovative research programs to address critical and economic quality of life issues and put this new knowledge to effective use,' says Dr. Tom Brzustowski, NCE Steering Committee Chair. 'The NCE program enjoys an international reputation for research excellence in areas of strategic importance to Canada such as language and literacy.'

The NCE program is jointly administered by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), , the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), which funded the recent study by Dr. Coyte, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SHRC), in conjunction with Industry Canada.

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LAST MODIFIED: November 04 2004 20:45:35

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