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Our research: preventing hearing loss

We fund research to understand what causes hearing loss so we can develop and test ways to prevent it.


Our research goals

We know many of the causes of hearing loss, such as ageing and loud noise. But we don’t fully understand the processes that cause damage to our hearing and the biology behind it. We need this knowledge to develop treatments that can prevent this damage from occurring in the first place – and protect people’s hearing.

We fund research to:

  • find out what causes hearing loss
  • help us understand more about the biology behind different types of hearing loss
  • improve how we measure and monitor hearing loss so that we can diagnose it more accurately
  • develop and test ways and treatments to prevent it from happening.

Stay up to date with research progress


What we’re funding now

Investigating the action of ototoxic drugs in hair cells

Researcher
Dr Emma Kenyon
Where
University of Sussex

Drugs called aminoglycosides are antibiotics crucial for treating serious infections and can save lives. They can be life-saving for premature babies. But they can also cause hearing loss. Drugs like these, that damage the inner ear – the cochlea – are called ototoxic.

Ototoxic drugs enter the cochlea and are taken up by the sound-sensing hair cells. Once inside the cell, they enter a structure within the cell called a lysosome, where the cell breaks them down. The longer the drug takes to reach a lysosome, the more toxic it is – and the more likely it is to cause hearing loss.

Dr Kenyon is studying how hair cells move these drugs into lysosomes. She hopes to find ways to speed up this process to prevent hearing loss. This could help us to develop drugs which are just as effective in treating infections, but no longer damage hearing.

Read more about this project.


Understanding how otosclerosis develops

Researcher
Nadhrah Ali
Where
King’s College London

Otosclerosis is a condition affecting the stirrup bone in the middle ear – the smallest bone in the body. This bone becomes fixed in place, meaning it can no longer pass on sound information to the inner ear, which leads to hearing loss. People with otosclerosis begin to lose their hearing as young adults, in their late teens or twenties.

You can have surgery for otosclerosis or use hearing aids, but this doesn’t fully restore your hearing. Nadhrah is investigating the biology behind how otosclerosis occurs in the ear. If we find out more, we can develop better treatments for those affected.

Read more about this project.

Find out more about the other research projects we fund.


Our progress

Discovering new genes for hearing loss

In 2019, our funding led to the identification of 44 new genes linked to age-related hearing loss. Helena Wells, a PhD student we funded in Professor Frances William’s lab at King’s College London, used data from the UK Biobank to find these new genes. The UK Biobank is tracking different health characteristics in 500,000 people aged between 40 and 69 over time. Before this study, only five genes had been found. These new genes can help develop new treatments to prevent or treat hearing loss.

Protecting hearing in newborn babies

Drugs called aminoglycosides are antibiotics that are crucial for treating serious infections. They can be life-saving for premature babies, but can also cause hearing loss.

In 2016, we helped fund the development of a quick genetic test to identify if someone was at risk of developing hearing loss from these drugs. Dr Bill Newman, at the University of Manchester, developed the test that is currently being clinically tested. If successful, it could protect around 180 babies a year from losing their hearing.

Find out more about our research achievements.


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