UK scientists win €1m award for deafness and hearing impairment research


Two leading neuroscientists have been awarded the Brain Prize 2012 for their work in the genetics of deafness.

hearing loss

Professor Karen Steel, Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS), and Professor Christine Petit of Institut Pasteur share the annual award from the Grete Lundbeck European Brain Research Foundation for their research into deafness and hearing impairment and “their unique, world-leading contributions to our understanding of the genetic regulation of the development and functioning of the ear, and for elucidating the causes of many of the hundreds of inherited forms of deafness”.

As many as one in 1,000 children are born with deafness and inherited conditions cause another one in 1,000 youngsters to become deaf before they reach adulthood.

Hearing impairments can affect the development of speech and also make the processes of learning and communication more difficult for children. Genetic conditions can also cause age-related hearing impairment and deafness, which affects around one-tenth of adults in the developed world.

Prof Steel (FRS) and Prof Petit are both investigating how the hairs in the inner ear function. The hair cells are stimulated by the movement of fluid inside the cochlear in the inner ear and affect hearing and also balance.

Prof Steel’s early research into the function of the cochlear and the degeneration of hair cells involved research on mice and identified the gene Tmc1, which is linked to several forms of hereditary deafness in humans.

Prof Steel (FRS) and her team also identified genes linked to Usher syndrome – a syndrome which causes deafness with blindness. She pioneered the use of mice in research into deafness as Principal Investigator for the Genetics of Deafness and founder of the Mouse Genetics Programme at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

The Grete Lundbeck European Brain Research Foundation is a nonprofit, charitable institution which awards the prize to one or more scientists who have made an outstanding contribution to European neuroscience.

Prof Steel and Prof Petit will receive the award on 9 May in Copenhagen, Denmark.

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