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30 November 2017

Blaise for web
Blaise Forrester-Gauntlett

Hearing loss affects many people as they age, but what if a way could be found to stop or slow down age-related hearing loss?

University of Waikato PhD student Blaise Forrester-Gauntlett (Ngāti Ranginui and Ngāi Te Rangi) has been awarded a Health Research Council grant worth almost $80,000 to assist her investigation into hearing loss.

“I’ll be using two models, a mouse model and a lab-based in vitro model to look at how exactly mutations of a gene called grainyhead-like 2, or Grhl2, cause a type of age-related hearing loss in humans.”

Blaise will be using a new technology called CRISPR, which allows for the introduction of single nucleotide changes into DNA, to make cell lines that have the same mutations that naturally occur in the human population.

“Then I’ll use these cell lines to make a mouse model and to use in the in vitro model to see how exactly these changes to the DNA are affecting inner ear development and hearing function. The in vitro method is a really new technology too,” Blaise says. “No one has published anything about its use for modelling a hearing loss disease.”

Blaise says if she can discover the exact role Grhl2 plays in the inner ear and how exactly its mutation leads to age-related hearing loss, then eventually they’ll find a cure. “Knowing why a particular genetic mutation leads to a disease is the first step in finding a way to treat or prevent that disease.”

She says she was drawn to her PhD subject after doing her Master of Science degree with the university’s Dr Linda Peters, looking at another gene important for hearing. “Then I did a summer research project at AgResearch with Dr BjÖrn Oback and it was after that I decided to start my doctorate, with Linda and Bjorn supervising me.”

Blaise is now based at AgResearch in the Animal Reproduction group, working with some other PhD students “and some other really cool and helpful people there”.

She says she’s come a long way from her first year at university. “In the early days of my bachelor degree I really struggled with the whole self-directed learning concept. But every year I got better at learning and studying and my grades improved as well.”

Once she’s finished her PhD, Blaise would like to stay working in labs. She hopes to secure a postdoctoral position somewhere and eventually lead her own research.

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