Allison Coffin is an Action on Hearing Loss-funded researcher at Washington State University in the US. We awarded her an International Project Grant to further develop a drug to protect hearing from damage by ototoxic (ear-toxic) medications.
Allison’s background is in fish biology and sensory neuroscience. An assistant professor at Washington State University in Vancouver, she and her lab team study noise- and drug-induced hearing loss. They are passionate about finding new drugs to prevent hearing loss.
The team uses zebrafish in their research. They are ideal for hearing studies because cells on the outside of their bodies are just like our inner ear hair cells. This makes it easy to test potential drugs: Allison’s team simply adds them to the water, then uses microscopes to study the effect on the fish hair cells.
Our funding enables Allison to examine a new potential drug to protect hearing from ototoxic damage, testing its ability to prevent drug-induced hearing loss in both zebrafish and mice. The drug was developed to be safe for humans, when taken orally, making it a good candidate for clinical use.
What would really drive hearing research forward?
Biological regeneration! Fish, frogs, and birds can all regrow sensory hair cells and recover functional hearing after damage – why can’t we? By studying animals that have innate regenerative capacity, we can learn their secrets and, hopefully, apply these secrets to regenerate human hearing.
Why do you work in hearing research?
I am passionate about communication. Hearing loss often keeps people from communicating with their loved ones, particularly people who’ve lost their hearing later in life and didn’t grow up in the Deaf community.
I want to help prevent hearing loss or restore hearing so that people can retain their communication abilities. Also, from a nerdy biologist perspective, I fell in love with the subject of fish hearing years ago (yes, I know this is weird…) I’m excited that I can study fish hearing and potentially help prevent hearing loss, all at the same time.