In 2018, two grants were awarded for innovative research that will increase our understanding of the inner ear and balance disorder Ménière's Disease. They were generously supported by a family committed to finding treatments and cures for Ménière's Disease.

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+ Gail Ishiyama, M.D.

UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine
Cellular and molecular biology of the microvasculature in the macula utricle of patients diagnosed with Ménière’s disease

To investigate the microscopic structure of the vasculature (blood vessel system) of balance organs from patients with intractable Ménière’s disease. Ishiyama’s hypothesis is that altered biochemical pathways affecting the vasculature of the blood labyrinthine barrier—which protects the inner ear from toxins and infections—may cause a dysfunction of the inner ear, leading to hearing loss and vertigo.

Ishiyama’s recent research revealed structural cellular changes in the blood labyrinthine barrier of the utricle, a balance organ, in Ménière’s patients (see opposite page). This project continues the work by detailing the cells and biochemical pathways that are altered in Ménière’s disease. This will provide greater information on the blood labyrinthine barrier and allow for the development of interventions that prevent the progression of hearing loss and stop the disabling vertigo in Ménière’s disease patients.

Gail Ishiyama received her medical degree from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, where she completed a two-year postdoctoral research fellowship under head and neck surgery - neurotology to understand the neurochemistry of the auditory and vestibular system, and where she is now a clinician-scientist in the department of neurology. Dr. Ishiyama was a 2016 Emerging Research Grants recipient.

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+ Ian Swinburne, Ph.D.

Harvard Medical School
Classifying the endolymphatic duct and sac's cell types and their gene sets using high-throughput single-cell transcriptomics

To understand how the inner ear endolymphatic duct and sac stabilize the inner ear’s environment and to identify ways to restore or elevate this function to mitigate or cure Ménière's disease. The endolymphatic duct and sac play important roles in stabilizing a fluid composition necessary for sensing sound and balance. The recurrent vertigo in Ménière's is likely caused by a malfunction of the endolymphatic sac, causing volume or pressure changes in the inner ear.

Swinburne recently found that the typical-functioning endolymphatic sac periodically inflates and deflates like a balloon, and that specialized cell structures in the sac appear to transiently open, causing the deflation of the endolymphatic sac. The sac, then, appears to act as a relief valve to maintain a consistent volume and pressure within the inner ear. This project will generate a list of endolymphatic sac cell types and the genes governing their function, which will aid in Ménière's diagnosis (which can be delayed due to the range of fluctuating symptoms) and the development of a targeted drug or gene therapy.

Ian Swinburne received his Ph.D in Cell Biology from Harvard Medical School, where he studied gene regulation and the role of intron length on biological timing with Pamela Silver. He currently conducts research at Harvard Medical School on systems biology of the inner ear with Sean Megason. Notably, his imaging and genetic analyses revealed the mechanism by which the endolymphatic sac behaves like a relief valve to control inner ear pressure and volume. His goal is to identify the molecular basis of the relief valve physiology. Dr. Swinburne was a 2013 Emerging Research Grants recipient.