Hearing Restoration Project (HRP) Special Research Update

By Peter G. Barr-Gillespie, PhD

We always seek ways to deepen the research collaboration between the consortium members. Since its creation more than three years ago, the HRP consortium has gathered twice each year for scientific meetings; these interactions have proven to produce meaningful research outcomes. The following is a recent example:

At the meeting held in Seattle last fall, 15 researchers convened to compare and discuss data from the past year, as well as to plan for the coming year’s projects. During the discussions, five of the investigators were surprised to find that they independently had the same observation, one that was so surprising that they each initially dismissed it as an experimental artifact. They had each separately found this result: in an adult mouse cochlea that had previously lost its hair cells due to damage from sound or drugs, weeks later, a few cells remaining in the cochlea began to display molecular markers related to hair cells.

These results may suggest that the supporting cells in the cochlea are more responsive to damage than we thought, and that they were trying to convert into new hair cells. The five different groups had the same observation using very different methods added considerable weight to the findings, and emphasize the value of the collaborative, data-sharing approach to science utilized by the HRP.

These observations were talked about among the 15 HRP investigators, and a new project was born to further investigate what were provisionally labeled “X-cells.” Given the flexibility of the HRP’s funding process, we were able to fast-track the proposal. The investigators wrote the proposal in a few weeks and vetted it with the rest of their HRP colleagues; the proposal was then evaluated and approved by the Scientific Advisory Board of the HRP and the project is now moving forward.

We hope to see exciting results from this project, which should establish whether these “X-cells” are real. If so, the HRP will determine how to push these cells further along their molecular differentiation pathway to become full-fledged hair cells, which might restore hearing in damaged ears. 

HHF understands the value of the consortium and has enabled the group to meet regularly for these important discussions. When the consortium members agree that an area of research deserves further exploration, a proposal is written and put forth for review and approval. Once approved, the fact that HHF can release the funds quickly helps to accelerate the pace of research.  

This helps us get closer to our goal of a cure!

Peter G. Barr-Gillespie, PhD

Director, Hearing Restoration Project

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