July 31, 2007

PARIS—Professor Karen Avraham, chair of the department of human molecular genetics and biochemistry at Tel Aviv University’s Sackler School of Medicine, represented EuroHear, a consortium of 25 European, Israeli, and UK-based research teams, at the European Union conference “Hearing and Seeing: European Research to Fight Deafness and Blindness,” held at Paris’s College de France on July 2-3.

This fall, Avraham will visit the US to address several “Tel Aviv University: American Council” groups on recent advances in research on hearing impairments.

About 12 million euros have gone into funding EuroHear, in which Avraham plays a leading role. Attendees at the conference included hundreds of academic representatives as well as patient groups, who are instrumental in helping scientists understand hearing loss.

“The goal of the conference was to bring researchers and clinicians—who work with both the deaf and blind—together to discuss each other’s strides made in their respective fields,” says Avraham, an American-Israeli geneticist, whose field of research, genomics, aims to investigate the biological mechanisms that can lead to hearing disorders.

Avraham’s work demonstrates that geopolitical issues should not be allowed to hinder academic and scientific collaboration. Her laboratory at the Sackler School has taken part in discovering key genes for deafness in the Israeli and Palestinian populations, and she and her Palestinian colleague, Professor Moien Kanaan, have helped identify 10 hearing loss genes. Together, as an example of Tel Aviv University’s commitment to cross-cultural academic and scientific collaboration, they have become known for a unique multi-disciplinary approach to understanding the high incidence of genetic deafness among Palestinian children.

Most recently, Avraham’s group discovered a new type of hearing impairment in Israel called OTSC4, a form with onset in early adulthood. Other landmark gene discovery research conducted by Avraham is now being used in diagnostic tests for patients.

“Knowing one’s genetic predisposition can certainly aid clinicians today and in the future for developing treatments and therapies to prevent further loss. One day a cure may be within reach,” says Avraham, stressing the importance of international academic collaboration to achieve further breakthroughs.

European figures for hearing impairment mirror those in the US. Over 10% of the EU population suffer some kind of hearing impairment, a figure rising to 40% among those 75 and older. The costs of managing hearing loss are considerable in terms of physical, social and mental wellbeing, educational development and employment. Early identification of such conditions and intervention are therefore extremely important for society.

For more information on Abraham’s research, visit www.tau.ac.il/~karena/.

SOURCE: EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS