Dozens of researchers from the Department of Otolaryngology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine showed the latest in research and innovation at the Association for Research in Otolaryngology (ARO) MidWinter Meeting — the world's largest organization of hearing and balance researchers.
This year’s annual event was held in Orlando and drew in scientists from various disciplines. Miller School faculty, trainees, and students covered more than 30 poster and podium presentations within multiple topics, such as non-invasive applications, findings from model simulations, and novel gene therapies.
"We couldn't be prouder of our research teams presenting their outstanding work in multiple forums during ARO," said Fred Telischi, M.D., M.E.E., chair of the Department of Otolaryngology, professor of neurological surgery and biomedical engineering, and the James R. Chandler Chair in Otolaryngology. "I received many unsolicited compliments from colleagues around the country about UM's participation and our impactful work in the fields of hearing, balance and inner ear disorders, and new treatments."
Gene Therapy Used in Sensory Sciences
Led by Xue Zhong Liu, M.D., Ph.D., the Marian and Walter Hotchkiss Endowed Chair in Otolaryngology, more than 12 presentations illustrated multidisciplinary clinical research on gene therapies for patient care with sensory sciences and communication disorders (SSCD). This research aims to be used in future clinical trials while further expanding on the first National Institutes of Health (NIH) gene therapy program grant for hearing loss.
"Our multidisciplinary SSCD team’s uniqueness is in the many collaborations that take place among the various levels in preclinical and clinical work, including trials on our diverse populations in South Florida," Dr. Liu said. "These activities also have secured our NIH training grants to generate the next generation of sensory surgeon-scientists."
Ongoing investigations within Dr. Liu's team include studying basic to clinical aspects of SSCD. More specifically, the work will characterize the molecular basis of hearing loss, develop gene therapy strategies for common forms of hearing loss, and investigate the relationship of sensory changes with pre-Alzheimer's disease.
Binaural Sound Interactions
The Auditory Spatial Perception Laboratory, led by Hillary Snapp, Au.D., Ph.D., chief of audiology, focused its time at ARO on three sound source localization and speech perception presentations. This work will provide greater insight into binaural hearing abilities (using both ears to perceive sound) and impairments faced while evaluating hearing treatments.
In addition to studying spatial hearing, the lab team is interested in understanding how listeners interact with sound, and the behaviors they employ to improve their hearing performance in complex and dynamically changing acoustic environments. Ongoing investigations within the laboratory include studying the localization and speech perception abilities of both normal hearing and hearing-impaired listeners.
"My lab is keyed on investigating how humans interact with sound to process complex acoustic information to facilitate better speech understanding, stream segregation, and spatial hearing," Dr. Snapp said. "I love that as a clinician-scientist, ARO allows us the opportunity to interact and learn from experts at every stage of innovation to drive our research questions."
Hearing and Balance Disorders
Suhrud Rajguru, Ph.D., professor of biomedical engineering and otolaryngology, leads the NeuroTherapeutics Lab and has contributed to ARO for more than 20 years. His group highlighted preclinical and clinical work from the lab in eight presentations.
The group presented work on therapeutic hypothermia for hearing preservation after various traumas; development of sensitive diagnostics; and testing novel therapeutic strategies. The team is also testing light-based neurostimulation strategies for cochlear implantation and collaborating to characterize different noises' effects on the vestibular system's function.
“Our program at UM is unique in that the collaborations and open dialogues between biomedical engineers, neuroscientists, audiologists, and neurotologists, supports important progress in medical devices and therapeutics, moving from preclinical and clinical work, including clinical trials,” Dr. Rajguru said. “It has provided a wonderful environment for our scientists, postdoctoral scholars, and students to be engaged in translational team science.”
Fostering Future Investigators
Apart from outstanding presentations done by the Department of Otolaryngology, Marie Valerie Roche, a graduate student in the Miller School’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, received the ARO Travel Award for the second time.
Roche won this year’s honor for her podium presentation “Interrogating Epigenetic Mechanisms in Hearing Loss Using a Genome-Wide Methylation Analysis.” Working in Dr. Liu’s lab, her research goals are to understand the involvement of epigenetics mechanism in hearing loss. Roche was one of the many students and residents who represented the Miller School at ARO, as the department continues to invest in the next generation of otolaryngology researchers.
"It was so nice to see our trainees present their work so professionally, and the interest and questions from the audience,” Dr. Telischi said. “Their mentors deserve enormous credit for their time and enthusiasm in training these future investigators."