Old name, new purpose: why we’ve gone back to RNID

Professor Peter McNaughton

King’s College London

Peter McNaughton was born in New Zealand, where he studied Physics at the University of Auckland. He was lecturer in Physiology at the University of Cambridge from 1978 to 1991, and moved to London in 1991 as Head of Physiology at King’s College London.

In 1999 he moved to Cambridge as Head of the Department of Pharmacology and in 2013 returned to King’s College London as Professor of Pharmacology. He was made a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences in 2013. 

More about Peter’s work

Peter has worked in several areas of neuroscience, focussing on sensory neuroscience (vision, hearing, pain and magnetic sensation). A recent project in his lab drew parallels between chronic pain and tinnitus. In his current work, he studies how specific proteins in nerve cells detect pain, tinnitus and temperature, and how this is reflected in an animal’s behaviour (e.g., moving away from something that causes pain). He has initiated two drug development projects, both arising from discoveries in his lab. 

Chronic pain – how it might help us find a treatment for tinnitus

Read about Peter’s research project

Peter’s approaches to hearing research

What do you see as the most exciting breakthrough in hearing research in the last 10 years?

The ability to regenerate auditory hair cells in animal models. 

What do you think will be the next big step forwards in hearing research?

At present we have no clear understanding of what causes tinnitus. I hope that the work proposed in our RNID grant will provide the first clear understanding of the molecular basis of tinnitus. 

What would make the biggest impact in driving hearing research forward?

We now know much more about how hearing works at a molecular level than we did 20 years ago. The challenge for the next 20 years is to translate those discoveries into cures for age-related hearing loss and tinnitus.

What motivates you to try to improve the world of people who are deaf, have hearing loss, or who have tinnitus?

For me scientific curiosity drives me to understand the mechanisms underlying hearing loss and tinnitus. I also have an ambition to develop drugs that will provide  cures for these, arising out of the improved understanding that  research can bring. 

Why have you chosen to work in hearing research?

My entry into this field was just by chance – I was working on chronic pain and wondered whether some of the advances that my group had made would also apply to tinnitus. So far this has turned out to be correct.

What do you hope your research will achieve?

There are two main achievements that we hope for: 

  • A better understanding of what drives tinnitus. If our hypothesis that HCN2 ion channels (a type of protein in some nerve cells, including auditory nerve cells, that are involved in sending signals to the brain) are critical in tinnitus is correct, then this will be a major advance. 
  • Development of drugs called HCN2 ion channel blockers (drugs that prevent HCN2 ion channels from signalling to the brain) as treatments for tinnitus. We are collaborating with the drug company Merck with the aim of developing these drugs into treatments for both neuropathic pain (a type of chronic pain where there is no detectable underlying cause in the body) and for tinnitus.

What does RNID funding mean to you?

The RNID funding has enabled us to undertake this project, which may have major therapeutic outcomes for people who suffer from tinnitus. Without this funding the project would not have gone ahead. 

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