Hearing and Balance

NIH Researchers Show Protein in Inner Ear Is Key to How Cells That Help With Hearing and Balance Are Positioned

By the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)

Line of polarity reversal (LPR) and location of Emx2 within two inner ear structures. Arrows indicate hair bundle orientation. Source: eLife

Line of polarity reversal (LPR) and location of Emx2 within two inner ear structures. Arrows indicate hair bundle orientation. Source: eLife

Using animal models, scientists have demonstrated that a protein called Emx2 is critical to how specialized cells that are important for maintaining hearing and balance are positioned in the inner ear. Emx2 is a transcription factor, a type of protein that plays a role in how genes are regulated. Conducted by scientists at the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the research offers new insight into how specialized sensory hair cells develop and function, providing opportunities for scientists to explore novel ways to treat hearing loss, balance disorders, and deafness. The results are published March 7, 2017, in eLife.

Our ability to hear and maintain balance relies on thousands of sensory hair cells in various parts of the inner ear. On top of these hair cells are clusters of tiny hair-like extensions called hair bundles. When triggered by sound, head movements, or other input, the hair bundles bend, opening channels that turn on the hair cells and create electrical signals to send information to the brain. These signals carry, for example, sound vibrations so the brain can tell us what we’ve heard or information about how our head is positioned or how it is moving, which the brain uses to help us maintain balance.

NIDCD researchers Doris Wu, Ph.D., chief of the Section on Sensory Cell Regeneration and Development and member of HHF’s Scientific Advisory Board, which provides oversight and guidance to our Hearing Restoration Project (HRP) consortium; Katie Kindt, Ph.D., acting chief of the Section on Sensory Cell Development and Function; and Tao Jiang, a doctoral student at the University of Maryland College Park, sought to describe how the hair cells and hair bundles in the inner ear are formed by exploring the role of Emx2, a protein known to be essential for the development of inner ear structures. They turned first to mice, which have been critical to helping scientists understand how intricate parts of the inner ear function in people.

Each hair bundle in the inner ear bends in only one direction to turn on the hair cell; when the bundle bends in the opposite direction, it is deactivated, or turned off, and the channels that sense vibrations close. Hair bundles in various sensory organs of the inner ear are oriented in a precise pattern. Scientists are just beginning to understand how the hair cells determine in which direction to point their hair bundles so that they perform their jobs.

In the parts of the inner ear where hair cells and their hair bundles convert sound vibrations into signals to the brain, the hair bundles are oriented in the same direction. The same is true for hair bundles involved in some aspects of balance, known as angular acceleration. But for hair cells involved in linear acceleration—or how the head senses the direction of forward and backward movement—the hair bundles divide into two regions that are oriented in opposite directions, which scientists call reversed polarity. The hair bundles face either toward or away from each other, depending on whether they are in the utricle or the saccule, two of the inner ear structures involved in balance. In mammals, the dividing line at which the hair bundles are oriented in opposite directions is called the line of polarity reversal (LPR).

Using gene expression analysis and loss- and gain-of-function analyses in mice that either lacked Emx2 or possessed extra amounts of the protein, the scientists found that Emx2 is expressed on only one side of the LPR. In addition, they discovered that Emx2 reversed hair bundle polarity by 180 degrees, thereby orienting hair bundles in the Emx2 region in opposite directions from hair bundles on the other side of the LPR. When the Emx2 was missing, the hair bundles in the same location were positioned to face the same direction.

Looking to other animals to see if Emx2 played the same role, they found that Emx2 reversed hair bundle orientation in the zebrafish neuromast, the organ where hair cells with reversed polarity that are sensitive to water movement reside.

These results suggest that Emx2 plays a key role in establishing the structural basis of hair bundle polarity and establishing the LPR. If Emx2 is found to function similarly in humans, as expected, the findings could help advance therapies for hearing loss and balance disorders. They could also advance research into understanding the mechanisms underlying sensory hair cell development within organs other than the inner ear.

This work was supported within the intramural laboratories of the NIDCD (ZIA DC000021 and ZIA DC000085).

Doris Wu Ph.D. is member of HHF’s Scientific Advisory Board, which provides oversight and guidance to our Hearing Restoration Project (HRP) consortium This article was repurpsed with permission from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. 

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John Brigande provides commentary: Hearing in the mouse of Usher

Oregon Health & Science University

The March issue of Nature Biotechnology brings together a set of articles that provide an overview of promising RNA-based therapies and the challenges of clinical validation and commercialization. In his News and Views essay, “Hearing in the mouse of Usher,” John V. Brigande, Ph.D., provides commentary on two studies in the issue that report important progress in research on gene therapy for the inner ear.

One in eight people in the United States aged 12 years or older has hearing loss in both ears. That figure suggests that, if you don’t have hearing loss, you likely know someone who does. Worldwide, hearing loss profoundly interferes with life tasks like learning and interpersonal communication for an estimated 32 million children and 328 million adults worldwide. Inherited genetic mutations cause about 50 percent of these cases.

The challenge in developing gene therapy for the inner ear isn’t a lack of known genes associated with hearing loss, but a lack of vectors to deliver DNA into cells. Brigande, associate professor of otolaryngology and cell, developmental, and cancer biology at the OHSU School of Medicine, provides perspective on companion studies that demonstrate adeno-associated viral vectors as a potent gene transfer agent for cochlear cell targets.

The first study demonstrates safe and efficient gene transfer to hair cells of the mouse inner ear using a synthetic adeno-associated viral vector that promises to be a powerful starting point for developing appropriate vectors for use in the human inner ear. The second study demonstrates that a single neonatal treatment with this viral vector successfully delivers a healthy gene to the inner ear to achieve unprecedented recovery of hearing and balance in a mouse model of a disease called Usher syndrome. Individuals with Usher syndrome type 1c are born deaf and with profound balance issues and experience vision loss by early adolescence. The research teams were led by scientists from the Harvard School of Medicine.

Brigande sees these new studies as potentially spurring investment and kickstarting the development of new approaches to correct a diverse set of deafness genes. 

Hearing Restoration Project consortium member John V. Brigande, Ph.D., is a developmental neurobiologist at the Oregon Hearing Research Center. He also teaches in the Neuroscience Graduate Program and in the Program in Molecular and Cellular Biology at the Oregon Health & Science University. This blog was reposted with the permission of Oregon Health & Science University.

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A Balancing Act

By Morgan Leppla

Balancing is pretty great. Not needing to think about how to stand upright is something I yield great benefit from, but is something that occurs without conscious effort or thought. I am fortunate, but many are not. This week is Balance Awareness Week, and HHF is highlighting the the inner ear and its mechanics!

The inner ear is a tiny but notable body part; not only is it important to hearing, but it is also where the balance organs and nerves are located.

The basic components of the inner ear include semicircular canals, the cochlea, the utricle, the saccule, and the vestibulocochlear nerve. The cochlea and one half of the vestibulocochlear nerve (the cochlear nerve) are in charge of hearing. The remaining semicircular canals, utricle, saccule, and vestibular nerve are responsible for balance.

There are three semicircular canals that contain fluid to activate sensory hair cells, which are arranged at ninety degree angles and detect different kinds of movement: up and down, side to side, and tilting. The utricle connects the semicircular canals to the saccule, which also detect motion. They are located in the vestibule inside of the labyrinth, which is the bony outer wall of the inner ear. All of this is the vestibular system.

But it is not only the vestibular system that assists with balance. Vision and sensory receptors (muscles, joints, skin, etc.) all transmit messages to the brain that work together and voila! balance.

Vestibular disorders can have a big effect on one’s equilibrium. People might experience dizziness, vertigo, or imbalance, as well as other inner ear-related issues. A commonly diagnosed  balance disorder is Meniere’s disease, which is one focus areas for our Emerging Research Grant (ERG) recipients.

Balance disorders can disrupt everyday life for those who experience them. It is also fairly common - in fact, about 69 million Americans or 35% of adults aged 40 and up have experiences vestibular dysfunction at some point in their life!

While it might be hard to believe something as tiny as the inner ear can affect a person’s ability to participate fully in daily life, HHF is fully committed to funding research that explores hearing and balance health.

Donate today to support groundbreaking research! 

We need your help in funding the exciting work of hearing and balance scientists.

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Sounds like Meniere's Disease

By Haley Walker

Haley getting hearing aid mold impressions

Haley getting hearing aid mold impressions

“Looks like you have Ménière’s disease,” my doctor said. My heart skipped a beat. What does that mean? What on earth is that? Over the next couple of months I had various hearing tests done, and met with an ear, nose, and throat doctor. It was a lot to take in.

At first I was just glad to have an answer to my problems. A name, a label, an explanation—and to know I am not going crazy. But after that I began to feel worried. Ultimately my diagnosis meant progressive hearing loss; not only did I need hearing aids for moderate hearing loss, my hearing could get worse.

Ménière’s also means I have to follow a low-salt diet. I can’t eat more than 1.5 grams a day of sodium. That’s about a third of a teaspoon. No fast food, no processed food, no added salt.

Ménière’s disease is a disorder that causes abnormal fluid retention in the inner ear, leading to balance problems, hearing loss, and tinnitus (ringing in the ears). Typically, it only affects one ear but lucky me—I have it in both. My doctor was very surprised and said it's quite rare, but as I researched the condition I found a lot of people have it in both ears. That made me feel a bit better.

The truth is it took over a year to finally get this diagnosis of Ménière’s. If I really think about it, I started having disabling dizzy spells that caused vomiting and nausea when I was in high school, at age 16 or 17. (I am 20 now.) My family and I wrote them off as anxiety attacks and dealt with them as they came.

I remember trying to walk home up a hill behind the school one day and literally falling on my face because I couldn’t walk straight. Mmmmm dirt… yummy. I stumbled home and laid down on the floor in our living room crying. I couldn’t get a grip on myself. What is happening to me? Anxiety definitely played a part, but I now know there was a more pieces to the puzzle.

I am now treating Ménière’s by following my low-sodium diet, wearing my hearing aids, and taking a diuretic—a medication that helps to control the abnormal fluid retention in my ears. (This is why limiting salt also helps—salt makes you retain water.) It was incredible when I first got my hearing aids. Everything I had been missing I could suddenly hear! I now can enjoy the little things like the birds singing outside my window in the morning. When the tinnitus gets really bad I put on background white noise, like the sound of the ocean or rain falling. And when the dizzy spells hit, I do the only thing I really can, sit or lay down, and close my eyes waiting for it to pass.

Haley and her hearing aid

Haley and her hearing aid

If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with Ménière’s, don’t worry—it's not the end of the world! You learn to cope and manage your flare-ups, and hearing aids are amazing. I cried tears of joy the first time I listened to music after I got them.

The important thing to remember is that you aren’t alone! There are others out there with Ménière’s. Join a group on Facebook or start your own. Talking to others who understand what it's like and what you are going through helps so much. Look at celebrities, like Katie Leclerc, who are dealing with it every day and rocking it.

And lastly, take care of yourself. On bad days, pace yourself and do what you need to do to feel better. Always remember, “This too shall pass.”

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Unraveling Genes Critical for Inner Ear Development

By Albert Edge, Ph.D., and Alain Dabdoub, Ph.D

The goal of the Hearing Restoration Project (HRP) is to determine how to regenerate inner ear sensory cells in humans to eventually restore hearing for millions of people worldwide. These sensory cells, called hair cells, in the cochlea detect and turn sound waves into electrical impulses that are sent to the brain. Once hair cells are damaged or die, hearing is impaired, but in most species, hair cells spontaneously regrow and hearing is restored. The HRP is aiming to enable this ability in humans. 

All cells develop through a chain of events triggered by chemical signals (proteins) from outside the cell. The signals kick off responses inside the cell that can change the cell’s ability to proliferate (grow and divide) and differentiate (take on specialized functions).

The Wnt signaling pathway, a sequence of events triggered by the Wnt protein, helps guide inner ear cell development, including the proliferation of cells that differentiate into the hair cells and supporting cells necessary for hearing and balance. But in mice and other mammals, inner ear cell proliferation does not continue past newborn stages.

Underscoring their importance in evolutionary terms, Wnt signals occur across species, from fruit flies to humans—the “W” in Wnt refers to “wingless”—and Wnt signaling is guided by dozens of genes. Albert Edge, Ph.D., Alain Dabdoub, Ph.D., and colleagues performed a comprehensive screen of 84 Wnt signaling-related genes and identified 72 that are expressed (turned on) during mouse inner ear development and maturation. Their results appeared in the journal PLoS One this February.

The Wnt signaling network has three primary pathways. Two are known to be integral to the formation of the mammalian inner ear, including the determination of a cell’s “fate,” or what type of cell it ultimately turns into. This is particularly significant because the inner ear’s sensory epithelium tissue is a highly organized structure with specific numbers and types of cells in an exact order. The precise arrangement and number of hair cells and supporting cells is essential for optimal hearing.

The relationship between the Wnt-related genes, the timing of their expression, and the various signaling pathways that act on inner ear cells is extremely complex. For instance, the composition of components inside a cell in addition to the cell’s context (which tissue the cell is in, and the tissue’s stage of development) will influence which pathway Wnt signaling will take. It is known that inhibiting the action of Wnt signaling causes hair cells to fail to differentiate.

 

The new research complements previous chicken inner ear studies of Wnt-related genes as well as a recent single-cell analysis of the newborn sensory epithelium in mice (conducted by HRP scientist Stefan Heller, Ph.D., and colleagues). Comprehensively detailing these 72 Wnt-related genes in the mouse cochlea across four developmental and postnatal time periods provides a deeper understanding of a critical component of hair cell development, bringing the HRP closer to identifying genes for their potential in hair cell regeneration.

Your Support Is Needed!

Hair cell regeneration is a plausible goal for eventual treatment of hearing and balance disorders.

The question is not if we will regenerate hair cells in humans, but when.  

However, we need your support to continue this vital research and find a cure!

Please make your gift today.  

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How Hearing Loss Affects Other Aspects of Your Health

By Patricia Sarmiento

A few years ago, my dad began experiencing hearing loss. He worked in loud factories all his life. And while in recent years he began wearing ear protection, I think there were many days on the job where he didn’t use any. As he grew older, all that time without ear protection took its toll.

Prior to his experiences with hearing loss, I must admit that I didn’t know much about it. As he began going through the necessary steps, like getting fitted for hearing aids, I began to look into how hearing loss can affect our overall health. Here’s what I found:

Falls: This was my first area of concern when my dad’s hearing loss was diagnosed. I knew that our ears play an important role in our balance. However, I was surprised to see how significantly one’s chances of falling increased with their hearing loss. WhittierHearing.com cites a study that found that even just mild hearing loss meant you were “three times more likely to have a history of falling.” Of course, the older someone is the more dangerous these falls can be. My dad was lucky in that his hearing loss didn’t ever seem to affect him in this way. But if you have a loved one who has fallen or is experiencing balance issues, get their hearing checked!

Depression. We actually began suspecting that my dad was experiencing hearing loss long before he began seeking treatment for it. I think he was simply too proud to admit that he was having problems. We had to repeat ourselves to him and sometimes at family gatherings he would withdraw altogether. It was when he stopped going to his weekly Men’s Breakfast at our church that we knew something was going on.

While my dad received treatment before his hearing loss really began to take a toll on his mental health, I can definitely see how it could lead to depression. People experiencing hearing loss may experience poorer quality of life, isolation and reduced social activity.

Dementia. Through my research, I found out that in older adults there is a connection between hearing loss and dementia and Alzheimer’s. Those with mild hearing impairment are nearly twice as likely to develop dementia compared to those with normal hearing. The risk increases three-fold for those with moderate hearing loss, and five-fold for those with severe impairment. It isn’t yet clear what causes the connection, but the article says some researchers believe it may result from those with hearing loss straining “to decode sounds,” which may take its toll on the brain.

So, what can you do to protect your hearing? I’d like to suggest going for a swim. Here’s why: This guide on swimming and heart health notes what an excellent cardiovascular and full body workout swimming can be. That’s important because there have been many studies showing a connection between heart health and hearing. Yet another reason to be sure you’re getting plenty of exercise!

Patricia Sarmiento loves swimming and running. She channels her love of fitness and wellness into blogging about health and health-related topics. She played sports in high school and college and continues to make living an active lifestyle a goal for her and her family. She lives with her husband, two children, and their Shih Tzu in Maryland.

See our Hearing Health story, “Have a Hearing Loss, Have Another Health Issue?” for more information about health conditions associated with hearing loss.

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HHF Board of Directors Elects Elizabeth Keithley, Ph.D. as its new Board Chair

By Elizabeth Keithley, Ph.D.

Elizabeth Keithley, Ph.D., Chairman, HHF Board of Directors                                            Professor Emeritus, Department of Surgery and Otolaryngology

University of California at San Diego

I have been a scientist who does research on mechanisms of inflammation and aging on the inner ear for more than 30 years. Growing up with a mother who had a hearing loss, I understood of the impact that hearing loss can have on a person’s life. It was quite natural that while in college I became interested in neuroscience and specifically the study of sensory perception. A professor asked me to work in his lab on hearing mechanisms and I have been studying them ever since.

In the 1990s I was asked to review the Emerging Research Grant (ERG) applications and that began my association with Hearing Health Foundation (HHF, and formerly known as Deafness Research Foundation). Soon afterward I was asked to join the Board of Directors. I have remained on the Board since that time.

The ERG program is a very valuable asset for the research community by enabling early-stage researchers to get their careers started. This program allows them to write a proposal describing a series of experiments to test a hypothesis that will increase our understanding of auditory or vestibular (hearing or balance) mechanisms. With data generated during the ERG funding period, the researcher can write an expanded, plausible proposal to address a larger issue. This becomes a proposal for funding from the National Institutes of Health.

In some ways the ERG program is a “dress rehearsal” for a career as an academic scientist. When these scientists receive funding from HHF, they have the opportunity to develop their own ideas. They begin to have some independence from a more senior investigator. The best path to achieving a world where everyone can hear is to continue bringing new people with their innovative ideas into the field of hearing and balance research. A review of the names of HHF-funded researchers over the past half century reveals the American leaders in the fields of hearing and balance research from the mid-1980s on.

As of October 1, 2015, I am the Chair of the HHF Board. I am very pleased to be involved with this important organization. HHF was created almost 60 years ago by a woman who was steadfast in her support of funding for new technologies and treatments for hearing loss. I will do whatever I can to ensure we are able to continue to make a meaningful impact through hearing research. 

It is a goal to see HHF raise enough money to fund the Hearing Restoration Project. The consortium model is a wonderful way to focus the attention of scientists to work together collaboratively and get meaningful results. If we can get to the level of funding $5 million to $6 million for research annually, it will give the scientists the resources to further accelerate the pace of the research and produce advances to prevent, treat, and cure hearing loss. Another goal that is equally as important to me is to be able to return our funding levels for the ERG program to $1 million a year. This was the level of funding when I started 20 years ago and I don’t think it is unreasonable to recommit to that amount in the future.

Hearing and balance research and advancements in hearing devices and technology have come a long way over the past 50 years. Significant outcomes have been achieved, but we still have a lot of work to do. The number of people with hearing loss and other hearing-related conditions is increasing and we need to continue to fund the most cutting-edge research until there is a day when every person can enjoy life without a hearing loss or tinnitus.  

I am interested in getting to know the members of our Hearing Health community.  If you have questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me via email.  

I look forward to hearing from you.

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Distilling the Data

By Michael Lovett, Ph.D.

The burgeoning field of bioinformatics allows the Hearing Restoration Project to analyze and compare large genomics datasets and identify the best genes for more testing. This sophisticated data analysis will help speed the way toward a cure for hearing loss and tinnitus.

 

Since its launch in 2011, the Hearing Restoration Project (HRP) is focused on identifying new therapies that will restore inner ear hair cell function, and hence hearing. Within the consortium, smaller research groups engage in separate projects over the course of the year, to move the science along more quickly.

Over the past decade my group, and the group led by my collaborator Mark Warchol, Ph.D., have worked to identify genes that are potential targets for drug development or for gene therapies to cure hearing loss. Our approach has been to determine the exact mechanisms that some vertebrates—in our case, birds—use to regenerate their hair cells and thus spontaneously restore their hearing. We have been comparing this genetic “tool kit” with the mechanisms that mammals normally use to make hair cells.

Unlike birds, mammals cannot regenerate adult hair cells when they are damaged, which is a leading cause of human hearing and balance disorders. Our working hypothesis is that birds have regeneration mechanisms that mammals are missing—or that mammals have developed a repressive mechanism that prevents hair cell regeneration.

In either case, our strategy has been to get a detailed picture of what transpires during hair cell regeneration in birds by using cutting-edge technologies developed during the Human Genome Project (the international research collaboration whose goal was the complete mapping of all the nuclear DNA in humans). These next-generation (NextGen) DNA sequencing methods have allowed us to accurately measure changes in every single gene as chick sensory hair cells regenerate.

The good news is that this gives us, for the first time, an exquisitely detailed and accurate description of all of the genes that are potential players in the process. The bad news is that this is an enormous amount of information; thousands of genes change over the course of seven days of regeneration.

Some of these will be the crucially important—and possibly game-changing—genes that we want to explore in potential therapies, but most will be downstream effects of those upstream formative events. The challenge is to correctly identify the important causative needles in the haystack of later consequences.

We already know some important genetic players, but we are still far from understanding the genetic wiring of hair cell development or regeneration. For example, after decades of basic research, we know that certain signaling pathways, such as those termed Notch and Wnt, are important in specifying how hair cells develop. These chemical signaling pathways are made of multiple protein molecules, each of which is encoded by a single gene.

However, the Notch and Wnt pathways together comprise fewer than 100 genes and, despite being intensively studied for years, we do not completely understand every nuance of how they fit together.

It also may seem surprising that—more than a decade after the completion of the Human Genome Project and projects sequencing mouse, chick, and many other species’ genomic DNA—we still do not know the exact functions of many of the roughly 20,000 genes, mostly shared, that are found in each organism. This is partly because teasing out all of their interactions and biochemical properties is a painstaking process, and some of the genes exert subtly different effects in different organs. It is also because the genetic wiring diagram in different cells is a lot more complicated than a simple set of “on/off” switches.

All of this sounds a bit dire. Fortunately, we do have some tools for filtering the data deluge into groups of genes that are more likely to be top candidates. The first is to extract all of the information on “known” pathways, such as the Notch and Wnt mentioned earlier. That is relatively trivial and can be accomplished by someone reasonably well versed in Microsoft Excel.

That leaves us with the vast “unknown” world. Analyzing this requires computational, mathematical, and statistical methods that are collectively called bioinformatics. This burgeoning field has been in existence for a couple of decades and covers the computational analysis of very large datasets in all its forms. For example, we routinely use well-established bioinformatic methods to assemble and identify all of the gene sequences from our NextGen DNA sequence reads. These tasks would take many years if done by hand, but a matter of hours by computational methods.

In the case of our hair cell regeneration data, our major bioinformatic task is to identify the best genes for further experimental testing. One method is to computationally search the vast biological literature to see if any of them can be connected into new networks or pathways. There are now numerous software tools for conducting these types of searches. However, this really is not very helpful when searching through several thousand genes at once. The data must be filtered another way to be more useful.

We have used statistical pattern matching tools called self-organizing maps to analyze all of our data across every time point of hair cell regeneration. In this way we can detect genes that show similar patterns of changes and then drill down deeper into whether these genes are connected. This has provided us with an interesting “hit list” of genes that have strong supporting evidence of being good candidates for follow-up.

An additional approach is to compare our chick data to other datasets that the HRP consortium is collecting. The logic here is that we expect key genetic components to be shared across species. For example, we now know a great deal about what genes are used in zebrafish hair cell regeneration and the genes that specify mouse hair cells during normal development. We can conduct computational comparisons across these big datasets to identify what is similar and what is different. Again, this has yielded a small and interesting collection of genes that is being experimentally tested. 

Our final strategy has been to extract classes of genes that act as important switches in development. These transcription factors control other genetic circuits. We have identified all of these that change during chick hair cell regeneration. As a consortium the HRP now has a collection of about 200 very good candidate genes for follow-up. However, software and high-speed computation are not going to do it all for us. We still need biologists to ask and answer the important questions and to direct the correct bioinformatics comparisons.

Hair cell regeneration is a plausible goal for the treatment of hearing and balance disorders. The question is not if we will regenerate hair cells in humans, but when. Your financial support will help to ensure we can continue this vital research and find a cure in our lifetime! Please help us accelerate the pace of hearing and balance research and donate today. Your HELP is OUR hope!

If you have any questions about this research or our progress toward a cure for hearing loss and tinnitus, please contact Hearing Health Foundation at info@hhf.org.

Michael Lovett, Ph.D., is a professor at the National Lung & Heart Institute in London and the chair in systems biology at Imperial College London.

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Congratulations to Our Former Emerging Researchers

By Tara Guastella

The primary goal of our Emerging Research Grant (ERG) program is to prepare scientists new to hearing and balance research to earn funding through the National Institutes of Health (NIH). It is with that in mind that we are thrilled to congratulate the latest crop of ERG alumni who have received NIH support.

For the past 55 years, we have proudly provided thousands of hearing researchers with the seed funding to make it possible to compete successfully for NIH awards and further their research careers. With the tightening funding climate in Washington, it is truly a remarkable achievement to obtain these awards.

It is with great pleasure that we share:

2012 Emerging Researcher, Wei Min Chen, Ph.D., University of Virginia, received two awards from National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) for work in complex genetics research identifying genetic predictors of certain diseases.

2012 Emerging Researcher, Sung Ho Huh, Ph.D., Washington University, received a National Institute on Deafness and Communication Disorders (NIDCD) award studying cellular and molecular functions of cochlear development.

2012 & 2013 Emerging Researcher, Israt Jahan, M.B.B.S, Ph.D., University of Iowa, received a NIDCD award for her work in hair cell regeneration.

2011 & 2013 Emerging Researcher, Carolyn Ojano-Dirain, Ph.D., University of Florida, received a NIDCD award for her work in aminoglycoside-induced ototoxicity.

2012 & 2013 Emerging Researcher, Lina Reiss, Ph.D., Orgeon Health & Science University, received a NIDCD award for her work in binaural hearing loss and hearing devices.

Isabelle Roux, Ph.D.

Isabelle Roux, Ph.D.

2012 Emerging Researcher, Isabelle Roux, Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University, received a NIDCD award for her research in hair cells and their interaction with nerve fibers that provide feedback from the brain to the ear.

2012 Emerging Researcher, Rebecca Seal, Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh, received two National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) awards for work studying the central nervous system.

2009 Emerging Researcher, Ruili Xie, Ph.D., University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, received an award from the NIDCD for research on age-related hearing loss and noise-induced hearing loss.

We congratulate these researchers for their extraordinary research efforts and look forward to learning of their progress into the future.

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