Thanks to several scholarships, University of Waikato student Blaise Forrester-Gauntlett has her PhD underway.
This year, Blaise (Ngati Ranginui and Ngai Te Rangi) has been awarded a Todd Foundation Award for Excellence (Universities) of $12,000, a Hauora Māori Post-graduate Scholarship for $2200 from the Ministry of Health, a National Foundation for the Deaf Training and Development Scholarship for $3000 and a He Tohu Matauranga hei Whakamaumaharatanga ki a Turirangi Te Kani Tertiary Grant for $500 from the Tauranga Moana Māori Trust Board.
“I wouldn’t be able to do this PhD without these scholarships as they contribute significantly to my study and living costs,” she says.
Using stem cells for hearing research
Blaise’s PhD work "Using pluripotent stem cells for determining the cellular basis of hearing loss" is in the field of genetics, and looks at using stem cells for hearing research.
“We’re using mice as a model for human hearing loss. We’ll be researching the gene Grhl2 - the Grainyhead-like 2 gene - that causes a type of age-related hearing loss. No-one’s looked at how this gene is causing hearing loss and the cellular mechanisms that are involved.
“Once we understand more about it, we should be able to discover how to treat or prevent hearing loss caused by this gene. It’s really exciting what stem cell research can be used for now. What we hope to learn and discover could be applicable across lots of different types of hearing impairments.”
Blaise is supervised by Dr Linda Peters and Dr Steve Bird from the University’s Biological Sciences department in the School of Science, and Dr Bjorn Oback, who leads the stem cell research team from AgResearch where Blaise completed a summer internship in 2013/14.