Physician-Scientist Wins NIH Grant to Find Susceptibility Genes for Age-Related Hearing Loss

The Miller School’s Xue Zhong Liu, M.D., Ph.D., professor of otolaryngology, human genetics, pediatrics and biochemistry, has received a five-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to identify specific genetic variants that infer susceptibility to age-related hearing loss, or Presbycusis. The grant also marks an important milestone for Liu, who is now the most successfully funded genetic hearing loss researcher in the United States.

“We’re pleased that the NIH and scientific community have validated the importance of the Miami Otogenetic Program,” said Liu, who directs the program and is also Vice Chair for Research in the Department of Otolaryngology. Liu, who has been awarded multiple NIH grants supporting projects from gene discovery to translational research, established the program to provide a unique platform to conduct experimental and therapeutic studies on hereditary hearing loss.

With more than a third of people over the age of 60 gradually losing their hearing, it is so common that it is widely thought of as a normal part of aging, rather than a disease that could be prevented or treated.

“Characterizing functional genetic variation, which increases the risk of hearing loss, will reveal the pathological mechanisms that alternative methods have failed to establish and pinpoint therapeutic targets,” said Liu. “This would be a major advance in the understanding of a very common impairment affecting the quality of life of millions of individuals.”

Liu says he will use the grant to perform a comprehensive population-based molecular genetic study to provide information about genetic contributions to specific phenotypes and biological pathways involved with age-related hearing loss.

“The identification of the structural variations in genes that cause age-related hearing loss is an essential first step in the development of new diagnostic tests and the discovery of new drugs for the prevention and treatment of this common public health issue,” he said.

Miller School co-investigators on the grant are Susan H. Blanton, Ph.D., associate professor of human genetics and Executive Director of the Hussman Institute for Human Genomics, and Denise Yan, Ph.D., assistant professor of otolaryngology.

The grant is a subproject of “Experimental and Clinical Studies of Presbyacusis,” funded by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, and led by Judy Dubno, Ph.D., and co-principal investigator Bradley A. Schulte, Ph.D., both from the Medical University of South Carolina. Originally issued in 1987, the grant has funded an extensive and continuously growing database of medical, noise and auditory function histories, along with DNA samples that will aid the new research led by Liu.

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