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Translational Hearing Center Receives $10.8 Million Grant from NIH

The Translational Hearing Center at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska was recently awarded the largest National Institutes of Health grant in the history of the university. The project is led by Peter Steyger, Ph.D., Professor of biomedical sciences who is also deaf.

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Written By: Lisa A. Goldstein

The Translational Hearing Center at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, was recently awarded the largest National Institutes of Health grant in the history of the university. The $10.8 million grant is payable over five years and competitively renewable up to 15 years, funding a partnership between the Translational Hearing Center, Boys Town National Research Center, and the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

The Translational Hearing Center – founded in 2019 and dedicated to preserving or restoring hearing loss – is directed by Peter Steyger, Ph.D., professor of biomedical sciences at Creighton who is also deaf.

Steyger lost his hearing at age 14 months due to meningitis. He wore analog hearing aids until he received his first pair of digital hearing aids in 2000, which he says made him feel 10 years younger. In 2006, he received a cochlear implant and is now on his fourth-generation processor with a Bluetooth-linked hearing aid in his other ear.

Steyger has been on AG Bell’s Scientific Advisory Committee for the AG Bell Research Symposia since 2003, leading the Research Symposium with Dr. Tilak Ratnanather, biomedical engineering professor and researcher at Johns Hopkins University. He is also a strong promoter of the STEMM-HEAR program, developed and led by Ratnanather. The nationwide program recruits and supports students with hearing loss in auditory research. Prior to working at Creighton University, he had previously spent 22 years as faculty at Oregon Health & Science University.

Volta Voices connected with Steyger to find out more about the grant and his goals.

VV: Can you describe what translational hearing means?

PS: There is a large body of research that characterizes the physical, physiological, biological, and molecular mechanisms by which hearing occurs, and how hearing loss happens, though by no means have auditory neuroscientists understood all these processes. The translational part comes where we begin to translate that knowledge into biomedical, pharmacological, device, and clinical interventions to preserve or rehabilitate hearing in patients at risk of hearing loss.

VV: What do you plan to do with the grant?

PS: The center is committed to developing a cadre of translational auditory/vestibular research scientists developing biomedical and ototherapeutic solutions that preserve or restore hearing and vestibular function. We currently support three research project leaders (for up to three years), and three pilot project awardees (for one year, and renewable).

The center also has two specialized research cores: the auditory and vestibular technology core, and the drug discovery and delivery core, to assist researchers in identifying pharmaceutical compounds that can prevent or restore hearing and vestibular function and validate these compounds in models of hearing loss; they would then translate those lead compounds into human trials.

VV: Why is this grant so unusual?

PS: The center is unique in that it is the only academic center (to our knowledge) specifically focused on pharmacotherapeutic strategies to prevent or restore hearing and vestibular function. We hope to train the next generation of translational auditory scientists who can staff research centers and biotechnology companies developing and marketing therapeutics that can prevent or restore hearing and vestibular function.

VV: How is your research unique?

PS: My own research differs from many others in that I seek to understand the biomedical factors that increase the risk of hearing loss from hospital medications. I focus primarily on the life-saving, yet ototoxic, aminoglycoside antibiotics, while others focus on anti-cancer drugs, like cisplatin, or other drugs being repurposed to treat viral infections (like COVID-19), yet also have known potential to induce hearing loss.

VV: What led you to the field of hearing loss research?

PS: I was fortunate to learn to listen and talk with some very dedicated teachers, including my mother. This dedication enabled me to be mainstreamed. I persevered to be able to enter university and discovered a passion for research. An advertisement to study aminoglycoside-induced hearing loss for a PhD really resonated with me, and I haven’t looked back since. That passion is what kept me going through some difficult times in research, and can only be found in doing something that one really enjoys.

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El Translational Hearing Center recibe una subvención de 10,8 millones USD de los NIH

El Translational Hearing Center (Centro de Audición Traslacional) de la Creighton University en Omaha (Nebraska) ha recibido recientemente la mayor subvención de los Institutos Nacionales de Salud (NIH por sus siglas en inglés) en la historia de la universidad. La subvención de 10,8 millones USD es pagadera durante cinco años y renovable competitivamente hasta 15 años, y financiará una asociación entre el Translational Hearing Center, Boys Town National Research Center, y el Centro Médico de la Universidad de Nebraska.

El Translational Hearing Center, fundado en 2019 y dedicado a preservar o restaurar la pérdida auditiva, lo dirige Peter Steyger, Ph.D., profesor de ciencias biomédicas en Creighton, que además es una persona con sordera.

El Sr. Steyger perdió la audición a los 14 meses de edad debido a una meningitis. Utilizó audífonos analógicos hasta que recibió su primer par de audífonos digitales en 2000, lo que, en sus propias palabras, hizo que se sintiera 10 años más joven. En 2006 recibió un implante coclear y actualmente utiliza un procesador de cuarta generación con un audífono conectado a Bluetooth en el otro oído.

El Sr. Steyger es miembro del Comité Asesor Científico de AG Bell para su Simposio de Investigación desde 2003, liderándolo conjuntamente con el Dr. Tilak Ratnanather, profesor de ingeniería biomédica e investigador de la Johns Hopkins University. Es, además, un gran promotor del programa STEMM-HEAR, desarrollado y dirigido por el Dr. Ratnanather. En este programa nacional se reclutan estudiantes con pérdida auditiva en la investigación auditiva y se les facilita apoyo. Antes de trabajar en la Creighton University, trabajó durante 20 años como profesor en la Oregon Health & Science University.

Volta Voices se puso en contacto con el Sr. Steyger para obtener más información sobre la subvención y sus objetivos.

VV: ¿Podría explicar qué significa la audición traslacional?

PS: Existe un gran cuerpo de investigación que caracteriza los mecanismos físicos, fisiológicos, biológicos y moleculares por los que tiene lugar la audición y la manera en que se produce la pérdida auditiva, si bien los neurocientíficos auditivos distan mucho de entender todos estos procesos. La parte traslacional se refiere al proceso de trasladar estos conocimientos a las intervenciones biomédicas, farmacológicas, clínicas y de dispositivos para preservar o rehabilitar la audición en pacientes con riesgo de pérdida auditiva.

VV: ¿Qué se plantea realizar con la subvención?

PS: El centro está comprometido con el desarrollo de un grupo de científicos de investigación traslacional auditiva/vestibular que desarrollen soluciones biomédicas y ototerapéuticas que preserven o restauren la función auditiva y vestibular. Actualmente apoyamos a tres líderes de proyectos de investigación (hasta tres años) y a tres ganadores de proyectos piloto (por un año y renovable).

El centro también cuenta con dos núcleos de investigación especializados: el núcleo de tecnología auditiva y vestibular, y el núcleo de descubrimiento y administración de fármacos. Su finalidad es ayudar a los investigadores a identificar compuestos farmacéuticos que prevengan o restauren la función auditiva y vestibular, y a validar estos compuestos en modelos de pérdida auditiva; posteriormente, trasladarían estos compuestos a ensayos en humanos.

VV: ¿Por qué esta subvención es tan inusual?

PS: El centro es singular en el sentido de que es el único centro académico (que sepamos) específicamente centrado en estrategias farmacoterapéuticas que prevengan o restauren la función auditiva y vestibular. Esperamos facilitar formación a la siguiente generación de científicos auditivos traslacionales que puedan trabajar en centros de investigación y empresas de biotecnología que desarrollen y comercialicen terapias que puedan prevenir o restaurar la función auditiva y vestibular.

VV: ¿En qué se diferencia su investigación?

PS: Mi investigación se diferencia de muchas otras en que trato de comprender los factores biomédicos que aumentan el riesgo de tener una pérdida auditiva debida a los medicamentos hospitalarios. Me centro principalmente en los antibióticos aminoglucósidos que salvan vidas, pero que son ototóxicos, mientras que otras personas se centran en medicamentos contra el cáncer, como el cisplatino, u otros medicamentos que se reutilizan para tratar infecciones virales (como la COVID-19), pero que también tienen un potencial conocido de inducir una pérdida auditiva.

VV: ¿Qué fue lo que le atrajo del campo de la investigación sobre la pérdida auditiva?

PS: Tuve la suerte de aprender a escuchar y hablar con algunos maestros de gran dedicación, incluida mi madre. Esta dedicación me permitió integrarme en el sistema educativo ordinario. Perseveré para poder entrar en la universidad y descubrí que me entusiasmaba la investigación. El anuncio para estudiar la pérdida auditiva inducida por aminoglucósidos en un doctorado atrajo mi interés y nunca he vuelto a mirar atrás. Este entusiasmo es lo que me ha mantenido a flote en algunos momentos difíciles en la investigación y que solo se puede tener cuando haces algo que realmente te gusta.

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