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In search of a cure for deafness

30 June 2011
United KingdomUnited Kingdom
Technology transfer |
The Enterprise Europe Network has helped British researchers team up with a French institute in order to gain access to a technology they hope will accelerate their understanding of how the ear is formed during embryo development.

Many of the Network’s 600 partner organisations are research agencies or universities. This specialist expertise means they can help researchers link up for funding applications or project development.

The cross-Channel collaboration began in Lyon, where the technology transfer office of Université de Lyon has established a long partnership with local Network partner, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Rhône-Alpes, to disseminate results of research centres based in the region. Researcher Dr Frederique Magdinier from the LBMC institute wanted to advertise its ‘insulator sequences’, a type of genetic code that insulates genes from the surrounding DNA making testing easier for researchers.

“We wanted to develop our technology in a new direction and the Network was there to help,” said Dr Magdinier. The Network team at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Rhône-Alpes helped her in the writing and posting of the technology offer in the Network’s powerful technology transfer database, which boasts more than 13 000 profiles.  

Dr Mark Maconochie, a reader in neuroscience at the University of Sussex, saw Dr. Magdinier’s alert and contacted Oliver Tang at his local Network branch, the London Technology Network. Dr Maconochie was looking for a way to make his experiments on ear development more efficient. The two scientists have reached an agreement allowing the Sussex University team to test LBMC’s insulator elements towards novel applications. “We should also be able to achieve our goals with fewer experiments on animals,” said Dr Maconochie.

The research is examining two cell types within the inner ear: hair cells and neurons. The first respond to noise while the second relay impulses to the brain. The aim is to understand why cells disappear with old age, a discovery which could lead to therapies capable of reversing the process.
While much attention has to date been paid to hair cells, the Sussex University team want via their experiments to understand the role of genes and their relationship with nerves.
“If we can understand what happens in the embryo then we can help maintain quality of life,” said Dr Maconochie.

The potential applications do not end there; the research could also be used to treat inherited deafness, noise-induced deafness and deafness caused by the over-subscription of antibiotics.

Network partners involved

London Technology Network Ltd