NIDCD Scientific Director / Director, Division of Intramural Research
Chief, Laboratory of Hearing Biology and Therapeutics
Chief, Section on Sensory Cell Biology
Dr. Cunningham received a B.A. and M.A. in audiology from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She completed a clinical fellowship in audiology at Indiana University Medical Center in Indianapolis. She received a Ph.D. in neuroscience from the University of Virginia and then completed a postdoctoral fellowship in auditory neuroscience at the University of Washington in Seattle. After her postdoc, Dr. Cunningham joined the faculty at the Medical University of South Carolina, where her lab conducted the initial studies on heat shock protein (HSP)-mediated protection against ototoxic drug-induced hearing loss and hair cell death. This work was funded by a Research Project Grant (R01) from the NIDCD.
Dr. Cunningham moved to the NIDCD's Section on Sensory Cell Biology in 2011, and she became a tenured senior investigator in 2014. Her lab conducts basic, translational, and clinical studies on hair cell degeneration and hearing loss in the mature inner ear and develops therapeutic strategies to safeguard hearing:
- Basic science studies in the lab examine the mechanisms that underlie sensory hair cell death and survival.
- Translational studies in the lab use this mechanistic knowledge to guide the rational design of therapies aimed at preventing or reversing hearing loss in humans.
- Clinical studies in the lab test the efficacy of potential protective therapies in humans receiving ototoxic drugs.
Dr. Cunningham became scientific director of the NIDCD on April 11, 2021. In this role, she oversees the institute's intramural (on-campus) research program.
Mechanosensory hair cells that are the receptor cells of hearing and balance