15th May 2009

Karen Steel elected Fellow of the Royal Society

Karen Steel, Principal Investigator at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, elected to the Royal Society

Picture of Professor Karen Steel, elected Fellow of the Royal Society.

Professor Karen P Steel. Elected to the Royal Society on 15 May 2009. [Wellcome Library, London]

Professor Karen P Steel, of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, has been elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society, the UK's most prestigious scientific organisation. The election recognises Professor Steel's position as a world leader in research into the genetics of hearing and deafness.

The Royal Society is the UK's leading scientific organization and today announces the election of 44 new Fellows and 8 Foreign Members for 2009. The Fellowship of the Royal Society is composed of over 1400 distinguished scientists, engineers and technologists from the United Kingdom, other Commonwealth countries and the Republic of Ireland.

" I am honoured to be named for election to the Royal Society among so many distinguished scientists. This is really a reflection of the work of my team over many years, at the MRC Institute of Hearing Research and more recently at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, as well as my many collaborators around the world. "

Prof Karen Steel

The Royal Society citation reads, in part: "Karen Steel has distinguished herself both by numerous contributions to the general problems of defining chromosomal homologies between mouse and man and the specific problems of genomic function and related phenotypes in deaf mice. She showed that structural disorganisation could be secondary to impaired function, rather than being primarily developmental... Her work has profoundly influenced the assumed nature of Mendelian forms of human deafness."

Professor Karen Steel is leader of the Genetics of Deafness research programme at the Sanger Institute. She studies the biological basis of deafness in mouse models in order to improve understanding of the genetic causes of deafness.

"I am honoured to be named for election to the Royal Society among so many distinguished scientists," says Karen Steel. "This is really a reflection of the work of my team over many years, at the MRC Institute of Hearing Research and more recently at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, as well as my many collaborators around the world."

"It is through collaboration, not individual achievement, that we will eventually uncover the molecular basis for all types of hearing impairment and be better able to develop treatments for people suffering the social isolation that often results from progressive hearing loss."

Karen Steel graduated with a degree in Genetics & Zoology from the University of Leeds and completed her PhD in Genetics at the Department of Human Genetics and Biometry, University College London. For several years, she held a senior research position at the MRC Institute of Hearing Research in Nottingham.

In 2003, Professor Steel moved to the Sanger Institute to carry on her research into genetic deafness and to establish the new Mouse Genetics Programme, designed to generate many new mouse mutants each year and screen them for indications of a wide range of diseases of importance in the human population. All resources are distributed to the external scientific community for further detailed study. The screen includes looking for signs of hearing impairment, and has led to several new genes being identified as being involved in deafness.

Today's election adds to Karen Steel's honours awarded from institutions either side of the Atlantic. In 1998, she was awarded the US Kresge-Mirmelstein prize for excellence in hearing research and, in 2004, she was elected as Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences - another UK scientific honour. She is currently president of the International Mammalian Genome Society.

"Karen and her team have revolutionised our understanding of many forms of deafness," says Professor Allan Bradley, FRS, Director of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. "She has worked assiduously for many years to uncover the genetic basis of deafness. In this time she has been involved in collaborations with major centres, including MRC Harwell and German Research Center for Environmental Health, to screen large numbers of mouse mutants that will provide the understanding that will lead to improved diagnosis and treatment of human deafness."

"I am thrilled that Karen's work, and that of all her teams over the years, has been recognised with this most prestigious of honours."

Before moving to the Sanger Institute, Professor Karen Steel had a leading role in the collaboration that uncovered Myo7a - the first gene to be implicated in deafness in mice and in humans. She has since been at the forefront of research into deafness and involved in many collaborations to uncover the genetic basis of deafness. Most recently, she led the discovery of a new type of gene - a microRNA - called miR-96, implicated in progressive hearing loss in mice and humans.

"Karen Steel has used the power of modern genetics to unravel the causes of many forms of deafness," says Sir Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust. "Her election to the Royal Society is fully deserved."

Karen Steel joins over 1400 Fellows of the Royal Society, including the Institute's Director, Allan Bradley; his predecessor, John Sulston; as well as Mike Stratton and Richard Durbin, both senior Sanger Institute investigators.

Notes to Editors

The Royal Society

The Royal Society is an independent academy promoting the natural and applied sciences. Founded in 1660, the Society has three roles, as the UK academy of science, as a learned Society, and as a funding agency. It responds to individual demand with selection by merit, not by field. As we prepare for our 350th anniversary in 2010, we are working to achieve five strategic priorities to:

  • Invest in future scientific leaders and in innovation
  • Influence policymaking with the best scientific advice
  • Invigorate science and mathematics education
  • Increase access to the best science internationally
  • Inspire an interest in the joy, wonder and excitement of scientific discovery


The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, which receives the majority of its funding from the Wellcome Trust, was founded in 1992. The Institute is responsible for the completion of the sequence of approximately one-third of the human genome as well as genomes of model organisms and more than 90 pathogen genomes. In October 2006, new funding was awarded by the Wellcome Trust to exploit the wealth of genome data now available to answer important questions about health and disease.


The Wellcome Trust

The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. We support the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. Our breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. We are independent of both political and commercial interests.


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