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Translational Hearing Center awarded largest NIH grant in Creighton University history

Peter Steyger, PhDA research center dedicated to preserving or restoring hearing loss has been awarded the largest National Institutes of Health grant in the history of Creighton University.

Creighton’s Translational Hearing Center, which was established in 2019, has been awarded a $10.8 million grant, payable over five years and competitively renewable up to 15 years, by the NIH-affiliated Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE). The award will fund a working partnership between the Translational Hearing Center, Boys Town National Research Center and the University of Nebraska Medical Center as the three institutions seek to translate basic hearing loss research into practical therapies.

Led by Jian Zuo, PhD, chair of the Department of Biomedical Sciences at Creighton, and Peter Steyger, PhD, professor of biomedical sciences at Creighton and director of the Translational Hearing Center, the partnership will build a corps of academic researchers dedicated to battling hearing loss resulting from numerous causes. Researchers will tackle hearing loss in children whose hearing is compromised by antibiotics or other medical treatments, to individuals suffering hearing loss in the wake of cancer therapies, those who suffer deafness due to such infections as meningitis, through to natural hearing loss caused by aging.

“As the largest grant ever awarded to the University, it will be transformative for Creighton’s research,” said Laura Hansen, PhD, associate dean for research at the Creighton University School of Medicine. “The center’s investigators will be supported by core facilities that will enrich the research environment for all biomedical researchers at Creighton.”

The Rev. Daniel S. Hendrickson, SJ, PhD, president of Creighton University, said the grant marks an important milestone in Creighton’s long history. “This grant award is a historic moment for Creighton University, and is yet another data point in our long track record of excellence in the health sciences,” he said. “Dr. Zuo, Dr. Steyger, and their team are on the cutting-edge of research on restoring hearing loss, and importantly, I am convinced that their research in this area will improve the lives of children and adults who are impacted by hearing loss.”

Robert “Bo” Dunlay, MD’81, dean of the Creighton University School of Medicine, said the grant will boost the center’s already high reputation.

“The Creighton University Translational Hearing Center is internationally recognized for groundbreaking research that has a simple goal: to improve the lives of countless individuals who are facing hearing loss,” he said.“The COBRE is an important step on this journey."

In the grant application, Steyger said, “The Transitional Hearing Center will work to improve hearing loss by speeding the translation of research to clinical trials and from there into clinical practice.

“Hearing loss in infants and children results in delayed acquisition of listening and spoken language skills critical for academic achievement and impairs career trajectories of affected individuals,” he said. “In the aging population, hearing loss without appropriate rehabilitation accelerates aging and cognitive decline.”

The COBRE grant will enable creation of a unique research environment within the Transitional Hearing Center, consisting of junior investigators conducting basic research. An “administrative core” of experienced professionals will coordinate projects with an external advisory committee, all with the goal of developing new therapies and methods of assessing their effectiveness.

Researchers will examine peripheral hearing loss as well as compromised relationships between the inner ear and the brain in an effort to identify pharmacotherapeutic strategies.

Future plans call for expansion into investigational new drug applications, safety and efficacy studies and clinical trials in patient populations served by Creighton University's academic medical center, Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI) Health Systems, and with Boys Town National Research Center and the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

The Creighton University Translational Hearing Center was created in 2019 on the foundation of a grant from the Bellucci DePaoli Family Foundation, which honors the memory of Richard Bellucci, MD’42. After graduating from Creighton and returning to his native New York City, Bellucci made some of the 20th century’s most important contributions in the fields of otology and otolaryngology.

The center is directed by Steyger, a native of Manchester, England, who as a 14-month-old boy lost his hearing to meningitis and has since dedicated his career to preventing a similar fate from befalling other children.

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