Sally Dawson is an RNID-funded researcher at the University College London (UCL) Ear Institute. We’ve awarded Sally a number of grants, including an International Project Grant to identify genes involved in the middle ear condition, otosclerosis.
Sally is a molecular geneticist based at the UCL Ear Institute. Her research group applies advanced genetic and molecular biology techniques to investigating the causes of hearing loss, with a particular focus on age-related hearing loss and otosclerosis.
After completing her PhD in cardiovascular genetics at the Charing Cross Sunley Research Centre, Sally undertook post-doctoral research into the regulation of neuronal (nerve cell) gene expression at the Department of Molecular Pathology, University College London. She developed an interest in hearing research and this culminated in her moving to the new UCL Ear Institute – Sally and eight other UCL hearing researchers successfully applied to the Wellcome Trust for £9m to build it.
Sally has since established collaborations with a number of clinicians at the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital and beyond to recruit patients for genetic studies into hearing loss.
Sally also has a joint programme of research with Jonathan Gale, also at the UCL Ear Institute, investigating how the inner ear responds to stress and what role this plays in different forms of acquired hearing loss. She is also a member of the review panel that advises us on awarding our PhD studentships.
We have sponsored Sally’s research into both otosclerosis and cochlear stress. You can find out more about Sally’s work on her lab webpage.
What are the biggest problems facing hearing research?
First, the ear is a very complex system with many different components that are all needed for normal hearing. This means it is difficult to pinpoint which of these components is responsible for the hearing loss in any single individual.
Secondly, accessing the affected tissue for research is normally impossible, so this limits the approaches that can be used. Lastly, and unfortunately, people still fail to grasp the impact of hearing loss and deafness, so far less money is allocated to hearing research than other similar fields. Money really does make a difference in research – there have been so many advances in molecular biology and genetic technologies which have transformed what can be done, but it will require significant and sustained funding to make the breakthroughs that are needed in hearing research.
What does RNID funding mean to you?
RNID is the only UK source of funding dedicated to hearing research. Whenever we apply to other funding bodies we are competing against researchers studying other diseases like cancer, dementia and heart disease. To attract large research grants from the government research councils, or the Wellcome Trust, you need to have gathered preliminary results in order to demonstrate that your research idea is a good one. Without RNID funding to help gather this data, new ideas to prevent or treat hearing loss would not get a chance.
What do you want your research to achieve?
I hope it will help us to understand why people lose their hearing. And that this information will, ultimately, allow us to develop treatments or prevent hearing loss.