Hong-Bo Zhao, MD, PhD has received a grant from the Children’s Miracle Network to help define genetic mutations in children with hearing loss. It is known that mutation of the connexin gene, which encodes intercellular communication proteins in vertebrates, accounts for 70-80 percent of hereditary hearing loss in children. Recently, by application of genoinformatics, a new chromosome called pannexin has been found in human and mouse genomes. In recent studies conducted by Dr. Zhao, it was shown that three pannexin chromosomes have extensive expression in the cochlea, or inner ear, and demonstrate distinct cellular distributions. This suggests that the pannexin isoforms play an important role in hearing.
Gathering data for the study, Co-Investigators Raleigh Jones, MD, Chief of Otolaryngology, and Jennifer Shinn, PhD, Director of Audiology in the Otolaryngology Division, will be responsible for screening and identifying mutation-induced hearing loss in children. Ten children will be chosen each year for a total of two years. Hearing function will be measured by the auditory brainstem response and DNA will be extracted from blood samples of deaf children. The three known pannexin isoforms will be screened. Postdoctoral scholar, Dr. Ling Zong, will perform the proposed experiments which include DNA extraction, sequencing, purification and data analysis. The DNA will be revealed by polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a technique to amplify copies of a piece of DNA across several orders of magnitude, generating thousands to millions of copies of a particular DNA sequence.
Dr. Zhao has been studying and discovering mechanisms of the mammalian inner ear for nearly twenty years. His experiments are mainly in the animal model. Dr. Zhao earned his MD and PhD in China. Previous appointments include Associate Research Scientist at Yale University Medical School and Assistant Professor in the Department of Otorhinolaryngology at Baylor College of Medicine. He is a tenured professor here at UK, having served the Otolaryngology Division since 2002.
Children’s Miracle Network (CMN) is a national non-profit organization that raises money for over 170 children’s hospitals in the United States. CMN has raised over $3.4 billion in small donations, one dollar at a time according to their Website. Proceeds go to research and clinical projects that benefit children. At UK, the CMN grant request for proposals was campus-wide. Criteria for Dr. Zhao’s award are threefold. First, it is high quality science. Second, it has the likelihood of impacting the health of children in the Commonwealth and the nation. Third, successful completion of the investigation will lead to the development of new treatments.
This investigation will reveal more about the pannexin gene function in the hearing process and provide insight into the development of new treatments. Congratulations to Drs. Zhao, Jones and Shinn!