NIH Grant Aids SIU Hearing Research
Cox lab studying novel gene to learn why hearing cells die
Hearing loss is primarily caused by death of sound-sensing cells called hair cells, which are found in the inner ear, in the snail-shaped structure called the cochlea. These cells can naturally regenerate in birds, frogs and fish, allowing recovery of hearing. However, hair cells were not thought to regenerate in humans or other mammals until very recently. In 2014, Brandon Cox, PhD, discovered their ability to spontaneously regenerate in newborn mice. Cox is an assistant professor of pharmacology and a research scientist at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine.
In addition to her work on hair cell regeneration in very young mice, Cox also studies survival pathways within hair cells. “We want to learn more about why aging, noise exposure or ototoxic drugs kills these cells, but not other cells in the body,” Cox said.
Cox has received a five-year grant from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to investigate factors that regulate survival of hair cells in the context of aging, regeneration and ototoxic drug or noise exposure. The total budget for the project is $1.4 million.
The studies will focus on a specific gene that is known to regulate hair cell survival during prenatal development. This gene has never been studied during cochlear maturation, spontaneous hair cell regeneration, or in the context of exposure to noise or toxic drugs. Cox’s grant will address these unanswered questions over the next five years as well as investigate the function of this gene in the vestibular system, which regulates balance.
This is the fourth national grant awarded for Cox’s research on hearing loss. Her research fellowship was funded by the NIH, and she received funding from the Office of Naval Research for her initial hair cell regeneration work. Currently, Cox also has a three-year, $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, a division of the Department of Defense, to advance her investigation of the genes and proteins that make hair cell regeneration possible.
Cox joined SIU’s faculty in 2013. She completed her postdoctoral training at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. She earned her doctoral degree in pharmacology from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. (2008) and her bachelor's degree from the University of Richmond in Virginia (1999). Research reported in this press release is supported by NIH under award number R01DC014441-01A1.