HRP

Hearing Restoration Project Scientific Director to Lead University’s Research Enterprise

By Tamara Hargens-Bradley, OHSU News

OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff

OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff

Peter Barr-Gillespie, Ph.D., will be Oregon Health & Science University’s (OHSU) first chief research officer and executive vice president, effective Jan. 1, 2019. Barr-Gillespie has served as interim senior vice president for research at OHSU since 2017.

In his new role, Barr-Gillespie will be principal adviser to OHSU President Danny Jacobs, M.D., FACS, on research strategy and research resource allocation. He will lead and manage OHSU’s research enterprise—comprising dozens of internationally and nationally acclaimed basic, translational, clinical, and public health research programs—and serve on the president’s executive leadership team.

“Dr. Barr-Gillespie has done a tremendous job leading the OHSU research mission on an interim basis. I’m delighted to appoint him to a new, permanent position that reflects his contributions and capabilities as well as the vital role of research at OHSU,” Jacobs says.

Barr-Gillespie also will collaborate with external academic, industrial and community research partners, and the various funding, regulatory and accrediting bodies. Moreover, he will represent OHSU in research collaborations with other universities in Oregon and the northwest region.

“I am excited to support Dr. Jacobs in developing OHSU’s 2025 strategic plan for research,” Barr-Gillespie says. “To be among the top-ranked research universities for NIH funding in the country and maintain our national reputation for cutting-edge research, we need to empower our researchers to do their best science by smartly investing in people, core resources, and space, and enhancing our graduate programs.”

OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff

OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff

Barr-Gillespie is an internationally recognized scholar, biomedical researcher and visionary academic leader who has been on faculty at OHSU since 1999. He currently holds faculty appointments in the departments of Otolaryngology/Head and Neck Surgery, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and Cell and Developmental Biology in OHSU’s School of Medicine and Oregon Hearing Research Center. He also is a senior scientist in the OHSU Vollum Institute.

An NIH-funded investigator, Barr-Gillespie’s research focus, his passion, is understanding the molecular mechanisms that enable our sense of hearing. Specifically, the Barr-Gillespie lab endeavors to determine how sensory cells in the inner ear called hair cells allow humans to perceive sound. Barr-Gillespie will maintain his active research program while serving as chief research officer.

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Barr-Gillespie is also the scientific director of the Hearing Restoration Project (HRP), an international consortium of 14 investigators funded by Hearing Health Foundation. The HRP’s goal is to develop a biological therapy for hearing loss arising from destruction of hair cells, which are not regenerated after damage from noise, ototoxic drugs, or aging.

Barr-Gillespie earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Reed College in 1981, carrying out his senior undergraduate thesis at OHSU after a summer fellowship in OHSU’s biochemistry department. He received his doctorate in pharmacology at the University of Washington in 1988, and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in physiology, cell biology and neuroscience with Jim Hudspeth, M.D., Ph.D., at the University of California San Francisco and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in 1993.

Following his fellowship, he accepted a faculty position in physiology at Johns Hopkins and remained there until accepting the position of scientist at the OHSU Vollum Institute and associate professor of otolaryngology/head and neck surgery in the OHSU School of Medicine in 1999. In 2014, Barr-Gillespie was appointed associate vice president for basic research at OHSU.

As a young investigator, Barr-Gillespie was named a Pew Scholar in Biomedical Sciences, a program that funds research “that shows outstanding promise in science relevant to the advancement of human health.” During his tenure at OHSU, he has been honored with the Faculty Excellence in Education Award and the John A. Resko Faculty Research Achievement and Mentoring Award.

Over his distinguished career, he has published more than 115 scholarly articles, chapters, and reviews, and has been an invited lecturer at dozens of research universities, academic conferences, and scientific events.

Barr-Gillespie and his wife, Ann Barr-Gillespie, D.P.T., Ph.D., live in Portland. She is the vice provost and executive dean of the College of Health Professions at the Pacific University Hillsboro campus. Their children are Aidan Gillespie, 17, and Katie Gillespie, 24, whom Peter and Ann share with their mother, Susan Gillespie. In their spare time, Peter and Ann enjoy cycling and hiking.

This is republished with permission from OHSU News.

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Shared Knowledge Is Power

By Lauren McGrath

Each February, thousands of hearing and balance scientists join their colleagues from around the world at the Association for Research in Otolaryngology (ARO) Mid-Winter Meeting. It is one of the premier international conferences for those in the field. I was fortunate to attend this year’s 42nd meeting, held in Baltimore, on behalf of Hearing Health Foundation (HHF), along with Emerging Research Grants (ERG) awardees past and present, Hearing Restoration Project (HRP) consortium scientists, and HHF scientific committee members—all of whom are integral to our mission to advance the prevention, treatment, and cures of hearing and balance conditions.

ARO provides auditory and vestibular researchers opportunities present their latest findings and engage in meaningful conversations with one another. If one scientist presents an idea to an audience of 100 scientists, she’s just created the possibility for 100 new ideas will form. Even one novel suggestion following a presentation at ARO can be invaluable to science.

Tenzin Ngodup, Ph.D., represents his HHF-funded tinnitus project at ARO.

Tenzin Ngodup, Ph.D., represents his HHF-funded tinnitus project at ARO.

One forum through which scientists share their knowledge at ARO is in the poster hall. ERG grantees including Tenzin Ngodup, Ph.D., and Samira Anderson, Au.D. Ph.D., stood proudly alongside large poster board displays ready to answer questions about their respective projects. Ngodup, who is currently funded by HHF and based at Oregon Health and Science University, used his poster to visually explain his progress investigating neuronal activity in the ventral cochlear nucleus (VCN) in order to prevent and treat tinnitus. “It was previously thought that there were a few hundred inhibitory glycinergic cells called D-stellate cells in the VCN, but we found a surprisingly large population of glycinergic cells— approximately 2,700—that are physiologically and morphologically distinct from D-stellate cells,” Ngodup says. By quantifying inhibitory neurons in the VCN he aims to examine inhibition in typical vs. tinnitus models, especially after noise exposure.

University of Maryland’s Anderson, a 2014 ERG grantee, represented an impressive half dozen informational poster boards with her colleagues. The titles included: “Aging Effects on the Auditory Evoked Cortical Potentials in Cochlear Implant Users”; “Mutual Information Analysis of Neural Representations of Speech in Noise in the Aging Midbrain”; and “Age-Related Degradation Is More Evident for Speech Stimuli With Longer Than With Shorter Consonant Transitions.” A clinician who transitioned to research, Anderson graciously thanked HHF for funding her first-ever scientific grant, and was thrilled to tell me her work had just been cited by the Wall Street Journal in an article called “Better Hearing Can Lead to Better Thinking,” published February 6, 2019, about the importance of hearing loss treatment in older adults.

Outside of the poster sessions in lecture halls, ARO attendees conduct topic-specific seminars to seated audiences. Elizabeth McCullagh, Ph.D., of University of Colorado Denver, a 2016 ERG grantee, led a symposium called “Mechanisms of Auditory Hypersensitivity in Fragile X Syndrome” in which she and other speakers, including Kelly Radziwon, Ph.D. (2017 ERG), and Khaleel Razak, Ph.D. (2018 ERG), presented their novel findings related to Fragile X syndrome: a genetic model for autism, difficulties in sound localization, and overstimulation by sound in mouse models.

2018 ERG grantees Joseph Toscano, Ph.D., A. Catalina Vélez-Ortega, Ph.D., and David Jung, M.D., Ph.D.

2018 ERG grantees Joseph Toscano, Ph.D., A. Catalina Vélez-Ortega, Ph.D., and David Jung, M.D., Ph.D.

Achim Klug, Ph.D., a volunteer ERG grant reviewer, remarked during the Council of Scientific Trustees (CST) reception—a gathering to formally honor our ERG 2018 grantees—how critical McCullagh’s ERG grant has been to her work as an early-career scientist. With seed funding from HHF, McCullagh was able to investigate and publish information about a previously underfunded topic and deepen understanding within the hearing research field, he said. Allen Ryan, Ph.D., another member of the CST, added the program is “immensely valuable for helping young scientists advance to receive a Research Project Grant [R01] from the National Institutes of Health.” Every dollar invested in ERG grantees yields $91 from the NIH.

The HRP consortium also convened at ARO to deliver updates on five active projects following their most recent Seattle meeting. Bioinformatics and epigenetics were major focal points with Ronna Hertzano, M.D., Ph.D., showcasing updates to the gEAR database that she created (“Gene Expression Analysis Resource”) and Neil Segil, Ph.D., reporting on gene changes in the mouse inner ear, a project he works on with fellow HRP scientists Michael Lovett, Ph.D., David Raible, Ph.D., and Jennifer Stone, Ph.D.

Stefan Heller, Ph.D., who spoke about his Stanford lab’s work on transcriptome changes in single chick cells, noted: "The investments in the HRP are truly paying off, especially in the last one to two years. HRP investigators had major papers published and obtained National Institutes of Health support with the help of funding for the HRP consortium. Regarding my laboratory’s work, HRP support has given us the chance to focus on getting the highest possible quality of data—in my mind, the most important foundation for future work."

HHF looks forward to work to come from Ngodup, Anderson, McCullagh, and other ERG grantees, as well as the collaborative efforts of the HRP to advance a biological cure for hearing loss. We sincerely thank our generous donors and supporters who make this life-changing work possible.

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Headlines in Hearing Restoration

By Yishane Lee

The cornerstone of Hearing Health Foundation for six decades has been funding early-career hearing and balance researchers through its Emerging Research Grants (ERG) program. Many ERG scientists have gone on to obtain prestigious National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding to continue their HHF-funded research; since 1958, each dollar awarded to ERG scientists by HHF has been matched by NIH investments of more than $90. Within the scientific community, ERG is a competitive grant awarded to the most promising investigators, and we’re always especially pleased when our ERG alumni who are now also members of or affiliated with our Hearing Restoration Project consortium make headlines in the mainstream news for their scientific breakthroughs.

Hair cells in the mouse cochlea courtesy of the lab of Hearing Restoration Project (HRP) member Andy Groves, Ph.D., Baylor College of Medicine.

Hair cells in the mouse cochlea courtesy of the lab of Hearing Restoration Project (HRP) member Andy Groves, Ph.D., Baylor College of Medicine.

Ronna Hertzano, M.D., Ph.D. (2009–10): Hearing Restoration Project consortium member Hertzano, an associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and colleagues identified a gene, Ikzf2, that acts as a key regulator for outer hair cells whose loss is a major cause of age-related hearing loss. The Ikzf2 gene encodes helios, a transcription factor (a protein that controls the expression of other genes). The mutation of the gene in mice impairs the activity of helios in the mice, leading to an outer hair cell deficit.

Reporting in the Nov. 21, 2018, issue of Nature, the team tested whether the opposite effect could be created—if an abundance of helios could boost the population of outer hair cells. They introduced a virus engineered to overexpress helios into the inner ear hair cells of newborn mice, and found that some mature inner hair cells became more like outer hair cells by exhibiting electromotility, a property limited to outer hair cells. The finding that helios can drive inner hair cells to adopt critical outer hair cell characteristics holds promise for future treatments of age-related hearing loss.

Patricia White, Ph.D. (2009, 2011), with Hearing Restoration Project member Albert Edge, Ph.D.: White, a research associate professor at the University of Rochester Medical Center, Edge, a professor of otolaryngology at Massachusetts Eye and Ear and Harvard Medical School, and team have been able to regrow the sensory hair cells found in the mouse cochlea. The study, published in the European Journal of Neuroscience on Sep. 30, 2018, builds on White’s prior research that identified a family of receptors called epidermal growth factor (EGF) that is responsible for activating supporting cells in the auditory organs of birds. When triggered, these cells proliferate and foster the generation of new sensory hair cells. In mice, EGF receptors are expressed but do not drive regeneration of hair cells, so it could be that as mammals evolved, the signaling pathway was altered.

The new study aimed to unblock the regeneration of hair cells and also integrate them with nerve cells, so they are functional, by switching the EGF signaling pathway to act as it does in birds. The team focused on a specific receptor called ERBB2, found in supporting cells. They used a number of methods to activate the EGF signaling pathway: a virus targeting ERBB2 receptors; mice genetically altered to overexpress activated ERBB2; and two drugs developed to stimulate stem cell activity in the eye and pancreas that are already known to activate ERBB2 signaling. The researchers found that activating the ERBB2 pathway triggered a cascading series of cellular events: Supporting cells began to proliferate and started the process of activating other neighboring stem cells to lead to “apparent supernumerary hair cell formation,” and these hair cells’ integration with the network of neurons was also supported.

This was prepared using press materials from the University of Maryland and the University of Rochester. For more, see hhf.org/hrp.

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The Hearing Restoration Project: Update on the Seattle Plan and More

By Peter G. Barr-Gillespie, Ph.D.

Hearing Health Foundation launched the Hearing Restoration Project (HRP) to understand how to regenerate inner ear sensory cells in humans to restore hearing. These sensory hair cells detect and turn sound waves into electrical impulses that are sent to the brain for decoding. Once hair cells are damaged or die, hearing is impaired, but in most species, such as birds and fish, hair cells spontaneously regrow and hearing is restored.

The overarching principle of the HRP consortium is cross-discipline collaboration: open sharing of data and ideas. By having almost immediate access to one another’s data, HRP scientists are able to perform follow-up experiments much faster, rather than having to wait years until data is published.

Regenerated hair cells from chicken auditory organs, with the cell body, nucleus and hair bundle labeled with various colored markers. Image courtesy of Jennifer Stone, Ph.D.

Regenerated hair cells from chicken auditory organs, with the cell body, nucleus and hair bundle labeled with various colored markers. Image courtesy of Jennifer Stone, Ph.D.

You may remember that two years ago, we changed how we develop our projects. We decided together on a group of four projects—the “Seattle Plan”—that are the most fundamental to the consortium’s progress. These projects, which grew out of previous HRP projects, have now been funded for two years, and considerable progress has been made. We have also funded several other projects that have bubbled up out of new observations and capabilities, and they have added considerably to our knowledge base. With this in mind, I am pleased to share with you the latest updates for our 2018–19 projects.

SEATTLE PLAN PROJECTS

Transcriptome changes in single chick cells
Stefan Heller, Ph.D.

  • Found that all “tall” hair cells are exclusively regenerated mitotically in this animal model.

  • Compiled evidence for different supporting cell subtypes.

  • Obtained good quality single cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq) data and are in the process of evolving an analysis strategy for the baseline cell types (control group). Identified about 50 novel marker genes for hair cells, supporting cells, and homogene cells, including subgroups.

  • Developed a strategy to finish all scRNA-seq using a novel peeling technique and latest generation library construction methods.

  •  Established two methods for multi-color in situ hybridization (PLISH, proximity ligation in situ hybridization) and SGA (sequential genomic analysis) for spatial and temporal mRNA expression validation.

Epigenetics of the mouse inner ear
Michael Lovett, Ph.D., David Raible, Ph.D., Neil Segil, Ph,D., Jennifer Stone, Ph.D.

  • Completed epigenetic, chromatin structure, and RNA-seq datasets for FACS-purified cochlear hair cells and supporting cells from postnatal day 1 and postnatal day 6 mice, and provision of these data sets to the gEAR (gene Expression Analysis Resource portal) for mounting on their webpage through EpiViz for access by the HRP consortium.

  • Established a webpage (EarCode) so that HRP consortium members can access the current data directly through a University of California, Santa Cruz, genome browser.

  • Discovered maintenance of the transcriptionally silent state of the hair cell gene regulatory network in perinatal supporting cells is dependent on a combination of H3K27me3 and active H3k27-deacetylation, and that during transdifferentiation, these epigenetic marks are modified to an active state.



Mouse functional testing
John Brigande, Ph.D.

  • Defined in vitro and in vivo model systems to interrogate genome editing efficacy using CRISPR/Cas9.

Implementing the gEAR for data sharing within the HRP
Ronna Hertzano, M.D., Ph.D.

  • Added scRNA-seq workbench for easy sharing and viewing of scRNA-seq data. Such data, which are now driving the field forward, have been particularly difficult to share

  • Created additional public datasets to improve data sharing.

  • Completely rewrote the gEAR backbone to be updated to the latest technologies, allowing the portal to now to handle a much larger number of datasets and users.

  • Performed hands-on gEAR workshops at the Association for Research in Otolaryngology and the Gordon Research Conference, increasing the number of users with accounts to greater than 300.


Single Cell RNA-seq of homeostatic neuromasts
Tatjana Piotrowski, Ph.D.

  • Optimized protocols for fluorescent-activated cell sorting and scRNA-seq; obtained high quality scRNA-seq transcriptome results from 1,400 neuromast cells; clustered all cells into seven groups; and performed analyses to align the cells along developmental time, providing a temporal readout of gene expressions during hair cell development.

OTHER PROJECTS

Integrated systems biology of hearing restoration
Seth Ament, Ph.D.

  • Discovered 29 novel risk loci for age-related hearing difficulty through new analyses of genome-wide association studies of multiple hearing-related traits in the U.K. Biobank (comprising 330,000 people), and predicted the causal genes and variants at these loci through integration with transcriptomics and epigenomics data from HRP consortium members.

  • Generated scRNA-seq of 9,472 cells in the neonatal mouse cochlea and utricle (postnatal days 2 and 7).

  • Conducted systems biology analyses that integrate multiple HRP datasets to characterize gene regulatory networks and predict driver genes associated with the development and regeneration of hair cells. These analyses utilize scRNA-seq of sensory epithelial cells in mouse, chicken, and zebrafish hearing and vestibular organs, as well as epigenomic data (ATAC-seq) from hair cells, support cells, and non-epithelial cells in the mouse cochlea.


Comparison of three reprogramming cocktails
Andy Groves, Ph.D.

  • Created and validated transgenic mouse lines expressing three different combinations of reprogramming transcription factors.

  • Demonstrated these lines can produce new hair cell–like cells in the undamaged and damaged cochlea of the immature mouse.

  • Compiled preliminary data showing Atoh1 and Gfi1 genes can create ectopic hair cells in the adult mouse cochlea.


Signaling molecules controlling avian auditory hair cell regeneration
Jennifer Stone, Ph.D.

  • Identified four molecular pathways (FGF, BMP, VEGF, and Wnt) that control hair cell regeneration in the bird auditory organ. These pathways were identified in Phase I (gene discovery) as being transcriptionally dynamic in birds, fish, and mice during regeneration, which indicated they may be universal regulators of hair cell regeneration.

  • Determined that the Notch signaling pathway (a powerful inhibitor of stem cells) also blocks supporting cell division in the chicken auditory organ after damage. This discovery shows that Notch is a negative regulator of regeneration, conserved in birds, fish, and mice.

  • Identified signaling molecules in birds that are correlated with either mitotic or non-mitotic modes of hair cell regeneration, and are now exploring how these signaling molecules interact to determine which mode of regeneration occurs. Since mammals only exhibit non-mitotic regeneration, we are particularly interested in determining how this mode is controlled.

UP NEXT

We look forward to our annual meeting, which will be held in Seattle in November. There we will discuss and integrate these data to develop our plans for our 2019–20 projects.

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As always we are very grateful for the donations we receive to fund this groundbreaking research to find better treatments for hearing loss and related conditions. Every dollar counts, and we sincerely thank our supporters.

HRP scientific director Peter G. Barr-Gillespie, Ph.D., is a professor of otolaryngology at the Oregon Hearing Research Center, a senior scientist at the Vollum Institute, and the interim senior vice president for research, all at Oregon Health & Science University. For more, see hhf.org/hrp.

 

Empower the Hearing Restoration Project's life-changing research. If you are able, please make a contribution today.

 
 
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A Powerful New Bioinformatics Tool

By Stefan Heller, Ph.D.

Our paper describing a new bioinformatics tool—and to showcase the software, a very detailed investigation as to how inner ear hair cells assemble their hair bundles—appeared in Cell Reports on June 5, 2018.

The creation of the CellTrails tool was supported in part by Hearing Health Foundation’s Hearing Restoration Project (HRP) but moreover, it is the product of recognizing existing limitations of data analysis, going back to the drawing board multiple times, and finally getting to a “product” that is going to be the workhorse to analyze a good part of the bioinformatics data that the HRP has been accumulating for years.

An image taken at 40x magnification using a confocal microscope in the Stefan Heller lab shows a 7-day-old chicken cochlea. Credit: Amanda Janesick, Ph.D.

An image taken at 40x magnification using a confocal microscope in the Stefan Heller lab shows a 7-day-old chicken cochlea. Credit: Amanda Janesick, Ph.D.

The ideas came from conversations between HRP scientific director Peter Barr-Gillespie, Ph.D., and me and our getting stuck with trying to make sense of all the data—so the tool is the direct product of interactions through the HRP.  It follows on our work utilizing single-cell gene expression analysis to examine the genetic instructions allowing individual cells to differentiate (change) into other types of cells, such as inner ear supporting cells that turn into hair cells in species other than mammals, and thereby restoring hearing.

The tool helps us pinpoint where specific single cells are located in an organ, and their trajectories as they undergo transformations, information that was lost or fuzzy before. With it we can create a more robust, visually rendered gene expression landscape. Two postdoctoral fellows in my lab were instrumental in CellTrails: bioinformatics researcher Daniel Ellwanger, Ph.D., the tool’s primary developer, and Mirko Scheibinger, Ph.D., who validated its predictions.

I hope many researchers make use of CellTrails, accessible online, to analyze their own mountains of data. As I told Stanford’s SCOPE Blog, “Single cell transcriptome analysis and reconstruction of spatial and temporal relationships among cells is an exploding new technology. A lot of labs are faced with the challenge of analyzing the data from single cells. This study is a rather extensive study that goes beyond the inner ear field because it provides a new way to analyze single cell transcriptomic data.”

I truly feel that the seeds that were planted years ago are now growing into sizable plants—we have a massive "chick regeneration inner ear plant” that is starting to thrive!

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Find the tool at hellerlab.stanford.edu/celltrails.

Stanford University’s Stefan Heller, Ph.D., is a member of HHF’s Hearing Restoration Project, where Oregon Health & Science University’s Peter Barr-Gillespie, Ph.D., is the scientific director.

Empower the Hearing Restoration Project's life-changing research. If you are able, please make a contribution today.

 
 
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HHF Attends HLAA 2018 Convention

By Nadine Dehgan

I was fortunate to attend my very first Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) Convention last week in Minneapolis, MN with Hearing Health Foundation (HHF)’s Program Associate, Maria Bibi.

Nadine Dehgan and Maria Bibi at HLAA 2018.

Nadine Dehgan and Maria Bibi at HLAA 2018.

We spent much of our time serving as resources to the highly engaged attendees. In the exhibit hall at our HHF booth, we answered questions related to our critical research and awareness programming. Maria and I were humbled to learn of the deep appreciation for our work from our booth’s visitors.

Several educational sessions were held beyond the exhibit hall. I was particularly grateful to witness John Brigande, Ph.D., and Ronna Hertzano, M.D., Ph.D., speak about HHF’s Hearing Restoration Project (HRP), the international scientific consortium dedicated to identifying better treatments and cures for hearing loss and tinnitus. Here, I met a supporter of HHF, who said, “[Drs. Brigande and Hertzano] were both informative, encouraging, and enthusiastic about their work and the possible outcomes. I will continue to follow their progress even more closely now.”

HHF Emerging Research Grants (ERG) 2018 recipient Evelyn Davies Venn, Au.D, Ph.D, also delivered a compelling presentation. An Assistant Professor at the University of Minnesota, Dr. Venn’s research focuses on a highly personalized hearing technology to help individuals better understand speech in noise. She discussed a new hearing aid in concept phase that will convert the sense of touch into sound electricity.

A shift from typical days in our quiet New York City office, the four-day convention connected us with many inspirational people—folks with hearing loss and scientists alike. Buzzing with energy, optimism, and knowledge about hearing loss, the convention was an important representation of how HHF’s work impacts so many individuals.

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The Countdown to Operation Regrow

By Gina Russo

Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) is counting down the days until the start of Operation Regrow, a two-week movement when you can help us to further progress toward better treatments and cures for hearing loss.

Beginning Tuesday, June 5, at 8:00 AM EDT, you can support the team of scientists conducting life-changing research to restore lost hearing, and more importantly, your generosity will have double the impact! All contributions received by 11:59 PM EDT on Tuesday, June 19 will be matched by an anonymous donor.

Transverse section through the embryonic day 20 chicken utricle (inner ear organ) at 20X magnification. Photo by Amanda Janesick, Ph.D., of the lab of Stefan Heller, Ph.D., a Hearing Restoration Project consortium member

Transverse section through the embryonic day 20 chicken utricle (inner ear organ) at 20X magnification. Photo by Amanda Janesick, Ph.D., of the lab of Stefan Heller, Ph.D., a Hearing Restoration Project consortium member

With just five days remaining until launch, you can share the five most important facts about Operation Regrow with friends and family:

  1. The Hearing Restoration Project (HRP) is the HHF-funded scientific consortium dedicated to finding biological cures for hearing loss.

  2. Damage to the sensory cells in the human inner ear causes irreversible hearing loss.

  3. The HRP members know that the key to hearing loss cures is the human ability to regrow cells in the inner ear. This phenomenon is already possible in certain species. The HRP has observed cell regrowth in chickens, fish, and young mice.

  4. The HRP is comprised of 15 senior scientists who work collaboratively by openly sharing data and ideas, and this collaboration helps to speed up the research process.

  5. HHF maintains stellar charity ratings from Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance, Guidestar, Charity Navigator, and CharityWatch for using 100% of donations to support critical research, ensuring that all Operation Regrow contributions will directly help the HRP.

If you are able to make a gift to Operation Regrow, please visit www.hhf.org/regrow between June 5 and June 19. Gifts may also be made by phone during business hours, 9:00 AM to 5:30 PM EDT, at 212-257-6140. We’ll be sure to keep you updated on our progress. Thank you for supporting HRP and hearing health!

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A Clinical Trial for a New Drug to Protect Hearing

By Yishane Lee

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a novel drug to protect against ototoxicity (harmfulness to hearing) due to the use of aminoglycoside antibiotics to treat severe infections. The FDA approval paves the way for a Phase I clinical trial to test whether the drug, found to be significantly protective in animals, is safe for humans.

Mature lateral line hair cells from larval zebrafish (shown with the neuromast sensory organ enlarged) serve as a platform for studying drugs and genes that modulate hair cell susceptibility to ototoxic agents.

Mature lateral line hair cells from larval zebrafish (shown with the neuromast sensory organ enlarged) serve as a platform for studying drugs and genes that modulate hair cell susceptibility to ototoxic agents.

The drug, ORC-13661, was developed by University of Washington professors Edwin Rubel, Ph.D., and David Raible, Ph.D., who are members of Hearing Health Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Board and Hearing Restoration Project, respectively, and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center scientist Julian Simons, Ph.D. “While this program was not directly funded by HHF, both David and I have definitely been supported by HHF for a long time,” Rubel says. “This is a drug to prevent hearing loss that we've developed over the past 15-plus years.”

Rubel points out the drug’s two main features: “It is a brand new drug with a composition of matter patent, not one that is used for other medical purposes and being repurposed; and it is the first drug that was developed, from the get-go, to protect hair cells from ototoxic injury.”

After screening libraries of potential chemicals to see which stopped hair cell death in zebrafish lateral line system, Rubel, Raible, and team identified the best candidate and then boosted its effectiveness by tweaking its chemical structure; results were published in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry in January 2018.

Rubel adds, “Toxicity studies in zebrafish, rats, and dogs required by the FDA show superior safety and nearly 100 percent hearing protection at all frequencies.” If the Phase I trial shows the drug is safe for humans, the next step is to test its efficacy among patients using aminoglycosides.

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Women’s History Through the Lens of HHF

By C. Adrean Mejia

Before Women’s History Month concludes, Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) would like to highlight the accomplishments of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), including those who have been instrumental to our own progress toward preventing, treating, and curing hearing loss and related conditions.

Historically, STEM has been majority male, but the growing inclusion of women in the industry is closing the gender gap. In fact, LinkedIn reports the percentage of women entering STEM roles in the last four decades is greater than that of any other professional sector. In 1978, the STEM workforce was only 10% female, while today about a third of this field is comprised of women.

Emerging Research Grants (ERG) recipient Dr. Wafaa Kaf administers a hearing screening. Credit: Missouri State University.

Emerging Research Grants (ERG) recipient Dr. Wafaa Kaf administers a hearing screening. Credit: Missouri State University.

As individuals and as an organization that values inclusiveness, we all at HHF applaud the trend of growing opportunity for women in scientific professions, while remaining equally grateful to the male researchers and Board members who offer their commitment, support, and expertise. Our founder was a woman; 60 years ago, Mrs. Collette Ramsey Baker began a quest to find better treatments and cures for hearing and balance conditions which is championed by all today.

We would like to acknowledge the outstanding women on HHF’s Board of Directors, whose altruism and intelligence have furthered hearing research and HHF’s growth. Our Board Chair, Elizabeth Keithley, Ph.D., who has been an auditory researcher for more than 30 years, began her association with HHF as a grant reviewer. Dr. Keithley has conducted and published a number of studies related to the mechanisms of inflammation and aging on the inner ear.

From left: HHF Board Chair Elizabeth Keithley, Ph.D., and Board member Judy Dubno, Ph.D.

From left: HHF Board Chair Elizabeth Keithley, Ph.D., and Board member Judy Dubno, Ph.D.

Board member Judy Dubno, Ph.D., professor at the Medical University of South Carolina, is considered one of the most important otolaryngology researchers in the nation. Her work has focused on auditory perception, hearing loss, and speech recognition. Dr. Dubno was also a contributor to the report that successfully urged the FDA to create a category of over-the-counter hearing aids to make hearing loss treatment more accessible to American adults.

Also serving on the Board is Ruth Anne Eatock, Ph.D., of the University of Chicago, who studies sensory signaling by hair cells and neurons in the inner ear. She was recently published in The Journal of Neuroscience for her investigation of inner ear sensory cells in rodents.

HHF is also thankful for the three female scientists who are part of our Hearing Restoration Project (HRP) consortium working to permanently cure hearing loss: Ronna Hertzano, M.D., Ph.D., Tatjana Piotrowski, Ph.D., and Jennifer S. Stone, Ph.D. Their labs at the University of Maryland, Stowers Institute for Medical Research, and the University of Washington, respectively, have uncovered valuable insights related to a biological cure for hearing loss.

Our Emerging Research Grants (ERG) program has empowered many brilliant, female researchers, including those recently published: Wafaa Kaf, Ph.D., researching new techniques to diagnose Ménière's disease; Michelle Hastings, Ph.D., investigating early genetic intervention for Usher syndrome; Elizabeth McCullagh, Ph.D., examining the connection between sound localization difficulties and Fragile X Syndrome; and Samira Anderson, Au.D., Ph.D., working to improve hearing aid fit to enhance usage.

Finally, we are fortunate to have Nadine Dehgan serving as our CEO. Ms. Dehgan plays a crucial role in our growth and programming efficiency, and her leadership experience and passion for how hearing science can better people’s lives has made her a strong fit to drive HHF forward.

HHF deeply values the work of all individuals who bring us closer to a world without hearing loss and tinnitus. For Women’s History Month, we’re honored to call special attention to the women who have been part of these life-changing efforts in the spirit of Mrs. Ramsey Baker, whose determination and selflessness still inspires us today.

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Mapping Better Hearing

By Vicky Chan

Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) is grateful to the many individuals and organizations who have empowered groundbreaking hearing loss research in the last 60 years. A new interactive map displays every institution in the U.S. where HHF has been fortunate to fund groundbreaking research, yielding outstanding advancements in hearing and balance science. The map also indicates the rates of hearing loss in each state, signaling that additional work is urgently needed.

The colors—light yellow, yellow, green, teal, blue, and purple—represent the rates of hearing loss in each state. The calculations are based off 2015 U.S. Census Data, using estimates from the well-known prevalence of hearing loss among specific demographics. At the lowest end of the range in light yellow, hearing loss affects 13.71% of Colorado’s population. The highest rate was found in Missouri, purple, where the prevalence measured 20.15%. The mean for all states was 18.16%. The numbers signal the significance of hearing loss research.

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Nearly all of the institutions on the map represent recipients of the Emerging Research Grants (ERG) who have carried out investigations related to tinnitus, hyperacusis, Ménière's disease, Usher syndrome, hearing loss in children, Central Auditory Processing Disorder, and strial atrophy.

A few institutions are home to the work of the Hearing Restoration Project’s (HRP) domestic consortium members, who focus on investigating hair cell regeneration as a cure for hearing loss and tinnitus. They conduct research at Baylor College of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Oregon Health & Science University, Stanford University, Stowers Institute, University of Maryland, University of Michigan, University of Southern California, University of Washington, and Washington University.

By mid-year, the institutions corresponding to HHF’s newly formed Ménière's Disease Grants (MDG) program will be added to the map.

HHF envisions a world in which no one lives with hearing loss and tinnitus—until this is realized, we’ll do everything we can to put more innovative hearing loss research on the map.

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