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OHSU Researcher Receives Prestigious Neuroscience Grant

   Portland, Ore.

Oregon Health & Science University neuroscientist John Brigande, Ph.D., has received a prestigious grant from The McKnight Endowment Fund for Neuroscience to pursue research into stem-cell-based therapies for hereditary hearing loss.

Brigande and co-awardee Stefan Heller, Ph.D., a cell and molecular biologist in the Eaton Peabody Lab at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, were awarded one of six 2005 McKnight Neuroscience of Brain Disorders awards. The three-year award is worth $300,000.

"Understanding how the brain works is a fundamental motivation of neuroscience research," said Larry Squire, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry, neurosciences and psychology who chairs the McKnight awards committee. "These awards recognize those who are building on recent advances to search for clinical applications that can lead to better diagnosis, treatment and prevention of diseases that affect the nervous system."

Hearing loss is the leading birth defect in the United States. Hearing impairment is frequently caused by a malfunction of cochlear hair cells or the neurons that communicate with them.

"The ultimate treatment for hearing loss is to replace defective cells with healthy ones," Brigande said. "We hope to learn if stem cells introduced into the developing inner ear of deaf mice by microinjection can give rise to healthy sensory cells and improve auditory function after birth."

Brigande, an assistant professor of otolaryngology/head and neck surgery in the Oregon Hearing Research Center, and Heller, assistant professor of otolaryngology and laryngology at Harvard Medical School, will combine their diverse, but complementary skills to take the first steps toward what one day could be a stem-cell-based therapy for human hearing loss.

The McKnight Endowment Fund for Neuroscience is an independent organization, funded solely by the McKnight Foundation of Minneapolis, Minn., and is led by a broad group of prominent neuroscientists from around the country. Its goal with the brain disorders award program is to promote the translation of basic science research into clinically efficacious treatment paradigms for diseases of the nervous system.

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