Otolaryngology Research

Department of Defense Grant Aids SIU Hearing Research

Southern Illinois University School of Medicine research scientist Brandon Cox, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacology, has secured a three-year 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 study of hearing loss and regeneration of sounds-sensing cells in the inner ear. The total budget for the project is $1.5 million.

Hearing loss is the third most common health problem in the U.S., and approximately 50 million people in the U.S. suffer from tinnitus ─ a persistent ringing in the ears. Both conditions are major problems among military personnel. The U.S. Veteran’s Administration (VA) currently spends approximately $2 billion per year for compensation where hearing loss or tinnitus was the primary complaint. Unfortunately, there are no FDA-approved drugs to treat hearing loss or tinnitus. The current treatment strategy for these conditions is hearing aids or cochlear implants. While they provide some benefit, they do not restore normal hearing. Thus, more research is needed.

Hearing loss is primarily caused by the death of sound-sensing cells (called hair cells) found in the inner ear. 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 when Cox discovered their ability to regenerate in newborn mice.

Cox’s research will investigate the genes and proteins that make hair cell regeneration possible. The long-term goal is to develop new treatment strategies to replace the damaged cells and restore hearing. This is the third national grant awarded for Cox’s research on hearing loss. Her previous research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Office of Naval Research.

Cox joined SIU’s faculty in 2013. She completed her postdoctoral training at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, TN. 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 USOASDHA under award number W81XWH-15-1-0475.

Our faculty are actively involved in research investigating mechanisms of otoxocity and otoprotection, hair cell regeneration, central and peripheral mechanisms of tinnitus, and the effect of aging on the central auditory system. Our division has had continuous NIH-funded research for over 35 years and provides state of the art research and research training to our residents and medical students.

Collaborative research at the SIU-Simmons Cancer Institute investigates the genetics and molecular biology of cancer. The Institute houses a core research facility with state of the art imaging, tumor repository, and flow cytometry.