This is a three year PhD studentship being carried out by Sian Kitcher in the laboratory of Professor Corné Kros at the University of Sussex. Her project started in October 2014 and will finish in September 2017.
Platinum-containing drugs such as cisplatin and carboplatin are widely used to treat certain types of cancer. Unfortunately, ototoxicity (damage to hearing) is a serious side effect of these drugs – it is estimated that up to 60% of patients given these drugs develop lasting hearing loss. There is an increasing need to develop and test new drugs to protect hearing, that could potentially be used to prevent these side effects.
Sian is investigating exactly how drugs like cisplatin and carboplatin enter the sensory hair cells in the inner ear. Once this is determined, she will test different compounds for their ability to block entry of these harmful drugs into hair cells. She will use zebrafish to test the compounds – zebrafish have hair cells very similar to our inner ear hair cells on the outside of their bodies, called ‘lateral line’ hair cells. This makes it easy to test large numbers of chemicals for their effects on hair cells and how well they protect against cisplatin damage.
Results from Sian's project should improve our understanding of the damaging effects of cisplatin and carboplatin on auditory hair cells in the inner ear, and may lead to better therapeutic interventions to prevent or reduce the permanent hearing damage they cause. If Sian's drug screen identifies compounds that can block cisplatin or carboplatin’s entry into hair cells, this may lead to the development of drugs that, when co-administered with anti-cancer drugs, prevent deafness.