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Scientist awarded fund to propel work on reversing hearing loss

By Matthew Pariselli  •  May 29, 2019

Dr. Alain Dabdoub, a senior scientist in Biological Sciences at Sunnybrook Research Institute (SRI), has received a Seed Fund worth $75,000 from the University of Toronto’s Medicine by Design initiative. He will put the award toward his work on restoring hearing.

“One of the main goals of our research is to regenerate auditory neurons responsible for transmitting sound information from inner ear sensory cells to the brain. These neurons degenerate due to noise and aging, causing permanent hearing loss,” says Dabdoub, who is also the director of the Sonja N. Koerner Hearing Regeneration Laboratory at SRI and an associate professor at U of T.

“The seed funding from Medicine by Design will enable us to perform proof-of-principle experiments generating preliminary data that we will use to attract more funding,” he adds.

The transformative research Dabdoub will carry out will rely on regenerative medicine approaches, such as cell and gene therapy, to correct hearing loss. Regenerative medicine is the reproduction, renewal or replacement of defective cells, organs and tissues.

Emphasizing the importance of the work, Dabdoub says debilitating hearing loss affects 400 million people worldwide, including more than 3 million Canadians. Owing to an aging population, this number is climbing.

He continues, “The World Health Organization reports hearing impairment to be the most common sensory defect and the second most prevalent health issue globally.”

Recently, Dabdoub published a review paper in Science Translational Medicine that pieces together what is known about the blood-labyrinth barrier, a shield that prevents substances, both good and bad, from entering the inner ear. This block presents a challenge for Dabdoub and other researchers who are working toward delivering therapies to the inner ear to rectify hearing loss.

Dabdoub’s project is one of five to receive Medicine by Design seed funding. This is the first year Seed Funds have been given out; in addition, four projects were each awarded $100,000, in the form of New Ideas funds. There had been a shortlist of 22 proposals before the nine recipients were revealed.

The announcement of the program’s $1.2 million investment was made Tuesday, May 14, 2019.

With a focus on cell therapy and regenerative medicine, Medicine by Design supports transformative research efforts from U of T and its affiliated hospitals. Further, it backs Toronto’s bioscience sector and helps to cement Canada as a world leader in the arena. It was established through a $114-million grant from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund.

In a nutshell

  • Dr. Alain Dabdoub has received $75,000 to further his research on regenerating auditory neurons to restore hearing.
  • The award came in the form of a Seed Fund from Medicine by Design, a University of Toronto initiative.
  • Dabdoub says hearing impairment affects more than 3 million Canadians, and due to an aging population, this number is growing.