Mary O'Sullivan

By Mary O’Sullivan Post Doctoral Researcher in the Cheng and Ricci Labs

In September 2015 I joined the labs of Professors Alan Cheng and Anthony Ricci at Stanford to further my research aimed at preventing aminoglycoside-induced hearing loss – one of the most common, preventable forms of deafness. Aminoglycosides are critical antibiotics that are most commonly used to treat gram-negative bacterial infections. While aminoglycosides are often life-saving, in some instances they can trigger hearing loss. There are currently no approved therapies to protect the ear from aminoglycoside toxicity, and the only treatment options available are hearing aids and cochlear implantation. As part of the Stanford Initiative to Cure Hearing Loss, my work follows a novel approach to develop designer aminoglycosides that maintain antibacterial activity but cannot enter sensory hair cells in the ear (1), cells that are the most susceptible to aminoglycoside-induced damage.

Early on the detective nature of science stood out and my interests led me to pursue undergraduate research at University College Cork and Trinity College Dublin. Following my BSc award in 2010, I moved to Imperial College London for my Masters of Research Degree. While at Imperial, I became fascinated by how components of the cell worked at the atomic scale and its potential biomedical applications. In 2011, intrigued by the structural basis of aminoglycoside-related hearing loss, I moved to University College London to the labs of Professors Bitner-Glindzicz and Rahman at the UCL Institute of Child Health for my PhD research. For my thesis, I examined the molecular mechanics of aminoglycoside hearing loss in samples from hypersensitive patients recruited through the Deafness Service at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital. During my PhD, I developed new methods to use samples from paediatric patients to shed light on the conflicting mechanisms of cellular dysfunction reported in the literature for the first time (2).

With my PhD awarded in July 2015, I made the move to California in August and began my post-doctoral research at Stanford in September. My first two months in the labs of Professor Cheng and Ricci have been fantastic. I have not only been able to learn and connect with world-leading leading experts, but I have also been availing of all that Stanford has to offer including the Stanford Spark Programme, the UCSF-Stanford Center of Excellence in Regulatory Science and Innovation (CERSI), and advanced seminars in the Departments of Otolaryngology and Molecular and Cellular Biology including Science Friday.

For further information our aminoglycoside research can be found here.