Karen Steel investigates the biological basis of inherited deafness by using mouse models to identify the genes involved. Karen has discovered genes that contribute to 25 forms of hearing disorder, many of which are linked to similar human conditions — providing improved diagnosis and fresh targets for future treatments.
She helped to uncover Myo-7a, the first gene to be implicated in deafness in mice. Her research also confirmed that a well-known link between deafness and abnormal pigmentation is associated with a lack of pigment-producing cells in the inner ear. In 2012, she received the Brain Prize for her pioneering work on the genetics of hearing and deafness.
Karen has made wider contributions by setting up large-scale efforts to generate hundreds of new mutant mouse models each year. By also introducing high-throughput methods to screen these mice, researchers are now able to efficiently screen for many conditions that affect humans, including signs of deafness and balance problems.