WSU News

Researcher uses zebra fish to study human hearing loss

Video by Matt Haugen, WSU News
VANCOUVER, Wash. – Allison Coffin is looking for colossal discoveries in a miniature zebra fish. What started as an interest in how fish use sound to communicate has turned into a pursuit to prevent hearing loss in humans.
“I’m interested in how we can help people by preventing hearing loss, but I’m really interested in the cells themselves,” said Coffin, assistant professor of neuroscience at Washington State University Vancouver. “What happens in these cells, how they’re damaged and how we can use that information to help those suffering from hearing loss.”
By comparing the “lateral line” of the zebra fish, or outer sensory cells, to similar cells in the human ear, Coffin can see what happens when the cells are damaged. Researchers can see how the cells die and how they might be protected from damage, Coffin said.
“The big picture is really about protecting human hearing,” she said, adding that hearing loss is one of the biggest sensory issues in the U.S. and a serious social problem.
“Hearing loss means people get more isolated, can’t communicate and can’t interact with others around them,” she said.
Coffin hopes the research will eventually be used to develop drugs that can help prevent hearing loss.
To learn more about Coffin’s work, visit her research page here
Contact: Allison Coffin, Assistant Professor, 360-546-9788,