Brain Prize Winners 2012 Karen Steel and Christine Petit
The Grete Lundbeck European Brain Research Foundation has announced that The Brain Prize 2012 is jointly awarded to Christine Petit and Karen Steel: ‘for their unique, world-leading contributions to our understanding of the genetic regulation of the development and functioning of the ear, and for elucidating the causes of many of the hundreds of inherited forms of deafness’.
Inherited conditions render one in a thousand children deaf at birth, and cause as many again to become deaf before maturity, leading to delay or failure in the acquisition of speech, and frequently to disadvantages in communication and learning. Genetic anomalies also contribute to many age-related and progressive forms of hearing loss. About one-tenth of the population in the developed world suffers from significant hearing impairment, which has an enormous impact on individuals and on society.
Karen Steel and Christine Petit are at the forefront of efforts to understand the molecular mechanisms of the specialised hair cells in the inner ear, whose extraordinary sensitivity to mechanical stimulation underpins the senses of hearing and balance. These two researchers, at the peak of their productivity and influence, are international leaders in the field of hereditary deafness.
Each has brought special skill to this challenging area of research. Their approaches have been complementary. Karen Steel has worked upwards, employing elegant and exhaustive study of mutations in mice and their functional consequences to illuminate human disorders. Christine Petit has started with the genetic analysis of patients, subsequently investigating the role of the identified genes in animal model systems.
Professor Colin Blakemore, Oxford University, Chairman of the Selection Committee said: ‘Together, the work of these two Europeans scientists illustrates the value and power of interdisciplinary approaches in neuroscience, and the way in which cutting-edge fundamental research is needed to understand complex clinical problems and to accelerate benefit for patients’…….’We are delighted that The Brain Prize for the best of European neuroscience goes, in its second year, to two women scientists. We are sure that the award will be applauded by female researchers around the world, and by all those who are concerned that young women are given every encouragement to consider careers in science’
The prize lectures and award ceremony will take place 9th May in Copenhagen, Denmark.