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House Ear Institute Scientists Receive $8 Million to Advance Hearing Health Research

LOS ANGELES - October 2003 - Scientists and physicians of the House Ear Institute (HEI) were awarded research grants totaling more than $8 million in the first three quarters of 2003. These grants will fund important scientific research at HEI and contribute to advancements in hearing health.

The majority of grants came from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), with one grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support research in visual speech synthesis by scientists Lynne E. Bernstein, Ph.D., and Ed Auer, Ph.D. The NIH also provided a grant to support Dr. Bernstein's cognitive neuroscience research on audiovisual speech processing by the brain. The largest NIH grant for this period was awarded to Laurie Eisenberg, Ph.D., for her research study titled Assessing Auditory Capacity in Hearing-Impaired Children. Dr. Eisenberg leads a five-year investigation using longitudinal and cross-sectional studies to measure and track auditory-perceptual development and the emergence of spoken language in hearing-impaired children between the ages of 6 months to 5 years.

"This study is unique because for the first time we are measuring many different factors that may influence a child's speech perception performance over time," says Laurie Eisenberg, Ph.D., CARE Research Lab at HEI. "We're studying contributing factors such as sensory assistance and maternal involvement to performance on tasks."

An NIH grant went to Caroline Abdala, Ph.D., for a second pediatric hearing research study in HEI's CARE Research Lab. Titled Postnatal Cochlear Maturation and Sources of Immaturity, this study aims to improve identification of cochlear dysfunction and provide support for development of auditory prostheses through an investigation of the final maturational stages of human cochlear function during early postnatal life.

HEI's Gonda (Goldschmied) Department of Cell and Molecular Biology also received generous NIH funding. Andy Groves, Ph.D., and Neil Segil, Ph.D., received support for their collaborative five-year study of stem cells in the mammalian inner ear titled Characterization of Inner Ear Stem Cells.

"Despite considerable interest in the possibility of hair cell regeneration in mammals as a way to restore hearing in the future, virtually nothing is known about the identity and properties of the progenitors of sensory hair cells, nor whether any cells in the mammalian inner ear have the properties of stem cells," says Andy Groves, Ph.D. "Our aim is to utilize a novel cell culture system we've developed to determine, among other things, if the progenitor cells in the ear are multipotent and can give rise to new hair cells, supporting cells and neurons."

Groves and Segil are co-investigators on another NIH-funded study to develop molecular profiles of inner ear cell populations on the basis of gene expression. This type of cell characterization can ultimately lead to positive identification of specific progenitor cell types in hair cell regeneration studies.

Research scientist Jian-Dong Li, M.D., Ph.D., continues his investigation of the pathogenesis of otitis media (middle ear infection) with two recent grants from NIH. Dr. Li's two studies, titled Regulation of Toll-like Receptors in Airway Infection and Regulation of Inflammation in Otitis Media, aim to elucidate the molecular signaling mechanisms of infection-causing bacteria and gain new insight into inhibiting inflammatory responses during infection.

David Lim, M.D., and Bob Shannon, Ph.D., received funding to lead the imaging and engineering and cores for the HEI Hearing Research Core Center, established to support a wide range of technical and other critical services to more than 20 investigators and their collaborators. Additionally, Dr. Lim received an NIH conference grant for HEI to co-sponsor a research conference on otitis media (OM) that reviewed recent discoveries made in OM research. Dr. Lim and his team at HEI also helped identify new opportunities for future investigation and collaboration between researchers in various disciplines to advance this area of science. Robert V. Shannon, Ph.D., received another NIH conference grant for HEI to co-sponsor the August 2003 Conference on Implant able Auditory Prostheses. Dr. Shannon and other key speakers discussed the latest research and technology in hearing implants, electrical stimulation and their effects on the brain and the auditory system.

In addition to receiving NIH grants as primary investigators in research projects, HEI scientists also received NIH support as part of collaborative, multi-center studies. William H. Slattery, III, M.D., is co-investigator in a study that explores the molecular basis of Neurofibromatosis Type II (NF2); a genetic disorder characterized by the development of bilateral vestibular and nervous system tumors. In this study, investigators hope to find a basis for tumor suppression, and also explore the feasibility of diagnostic genetic testing.

HEI scientist Rick A. Friedman, M.D., Ph.D., is working in tandem with colleagues at the Jackson Institute and Cedars-Sinai Health Systems in a collaborative study called the Genetics of Age-Related Hearing Loss Project. The aim of this project is to identify the human gene associated with presbycusis (age-related hearing loss). HEI's contribution will be to conduct a thorough analysis of DNA taken from blood samples coordinated through HEI's Clinical Studies Department.

About the House Ear Institute

The House Ear Institute (HEI) is a private, non-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to advancing hearing science through research and education to improve quality of life. HEI Scientists are exploring the causes of auditory disorders on the cellular and molecular level as well as refining the application of auditory implants and hearing aids. For more information please call (213) 483-4431 or visit the Website at www.hei.org http://www.hei.org.

# # #
Contacts:
Christa Spieth Nuber/Natasha Alim
Media Relations & Communications
House Ear Institute (HEI)
(213) 273-8027
newsmedia@hei.org

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