Molecular Hearing

The structure of the cochlea and the auditory system as a whole is exquisitely complex. There are many points at which failure on a molecular level within this organ during development or ageing can lead to hearing loss.

The Molecular Hearing group’s goal is to determine how genes and proteins involved in normal processes within the ear also regulate the complex process of hearing loss. Researchers are drawing on genetic, genomic, proteomic and computational tools to place individual genes into regulatory pathways. Using this information, the unit’s long-term goal is to identify molecules to target to prevent and treat hearing loss.

To achieve this aim, researchers have embarked on a number of different experiments. In particular, they are focusing on functional screens using ENU mutagenesis. Researchers are also using the extensive catalogue of apoptosis models to tease out the molecular pathways of cell death important within the ear. The group is committed to translating its findings to the clinic to help patients. The researchers are particularly excited about the prospect of using small molecules to modulate apoptosis – cell death - within the ear.

Group Leaders: 
Jackie Ogier
Role: 
Research Assistant
Jonathan Wirth
Role: 
UROP student
Michael Wilson
Role: 
Honours Student
Shane Lawson
Role: 
Exchange Student

Gene Discovery for Deafness
Approximately 120 regions of the human genome have been associated with inherited deafness - unfortunately we only understand which genes are important at about half of these sites. One of the aims of this group’s research is to find these missing deafness genes, using a combination of mouse and human genetics approaches. This knowledge will inform the development of better diagnostic tools and treatments for deafness.

Find out more about this study

Defining the Regulation of Auditory Apoptosis
Hearing loss can be acquired as a result of exposure to noise or certain classes of drugs, including platinum-based chemotherapeutics. Somewhat counter-intuitively, cochlear implantation can also result in the loss of any residual hearing a child may have had.  The cells damaged in each of these situations are the sensory hair cells and neurons inside the cochlea. The process by which these cells die is not well understood. The team is using a genetics approach to identifying the components of the programmed cell death pathway that regulate this auditory apoptosis.

Preventing the Auditory Apoptosis that leads to Acquired Hearing Impairment
The molecular hearing group believe that blocking the molecular signals initiating auditory cell death will lead to preservation of hearing in a range of clinical scenarios including cochlear implantation and chemotherapy. The team is investigating a range of strategies to achieve this including the use of new drugs that prevent apoptosis, and the use of RNA interference to block the activity of pro-death molecules in the cell.

Collaborations: 

Affiliations

  • The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research
  • The Department of Genetics at the University of Melbourne
  • The Department of Paediatrics at the University of Melbourne
  • The HEARing Cooperative Research Centre

Collaborations

  • The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research
  • The Bionics Institute
  • The Department of Otolaryngology at the University of Melbourne
  • The Department of Physics at LaTrobe University