Clinical Research Projects

Clinical Research Explores New and Improved Treatment Options for Ear, Nose and Throat Disorders

At University Hospitals Ear, Nose & Throat Institute’s ENT Translational & Basic Science Research Center, researchers are investigating the etiology and mechanism of diseases associated with the ear, nose and throat. Better understanding of the disease process will open doors to novel treatment options and cures for patients with hearing loss and other disorders of the head and neck.

Research topics include:

  • Molecular otology: This molecular-level research investigates why certain gene mutations lead to hearing loss and deafness. Studies completed at University Hospitals enabled the discovery of the gene responsible for a form of Usher syndrome, which causes deafness, blindness and balance problems in children. Usher syndrome is the most common cause of an inherited combined deafness and blindness. Another important study focuses on understanding the molecular pathogenesis of Meniere’s disease, a disorder associated with hearing loss and vertigo. The aim is to uncover biological changes that occur in the ear using a well-established animal model of Meniere’s. This investigation led to the identification of affected biological pathways, components of which could be targets for therapeutic intervention to prevent hearing loss in Meniere’s disease.
  • Noise-induced hearing loss: UH researchers are working to understand the molecular and cellular mechanisms behind temporary and permanent noise-induced hearing loss. Their work is focused on identifying gene expression changes in the ear following noise exposure. The team is also striving to identify proteins that can be used as markers in the progression of noise-induced hearing loss. These proteins could become targets for intervention to stop the progress of noise-induced hearing loss.
  • Otitis media: Middle ear infection or otitis media accounts for more than 30 million clinical visits in the U.S. each year, mostly for small children. It can result in hearing loss. Our team is working to identify new genes and functions of known genes that underlie otitis media susceptibility. These efforts could lead to more accurate and effective treatments for this condition, which are currently limited to antibiotic therapy.
  • Hair cell biology: Sound and movement are detected by mechanosensory cells within the ear called hair cells. This program is focused on studying the molecular mechanisms of hair cell development and function. The team uses zebrafish as a model to study hair cells because the entire ear is more accessible in this model compared to a guinea pig.
  • Middle ear microphone: Our researchers are developing a middle ear microphone for use with a prosthetic device called a totally implantable cochlear implant. The first phase of the project involves studying the mechanical and acoustic properties of the tiny bones of the inner ear that transmit sound waves from the eardrum to the cochlea.
  • Central deafness: UH researchers are examining the development of the brainstem components of the central auditory system. The goals are to understand where these structures arise, explore the developmental relationships of the neurons in these structures, and examine how the damage of one part of the system affects the development and function of other areas.
  • Photodynamic drugs for conditions of the larynx: UH researchers in laryngology and radiation oncology are developing a drug to enhance the laser treatment of laryngeal papillomatosis and other conditions. Such drugs are used to trigger the destruction of disease cells when exposed to certain wavelengths of light.
  • Cancer research: Squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck is a difficult condition to treat. An early diagnosis is key to having a positive treatment response, enhancing quality of life and improving survival rates. UH researchers are investigating the molecular mechanisms that lead to head and neck cancer. This work may result in the identification of new biomarkers, such as specific genes or proteins, which could enhance prevention and improve clinical management of this cancer type. The discovery of these biomarkers might also be useful for the identification of pre-neoplastic lesions, which are difficult to distinguish from other lesions.
  • Corical bone substitutes: Reconstructive surgery of the head requires mechanically strong and reliable bone substitutes. Such materials are rare. While natural bone from the patient is the best material, it can be in short supply. Harvesting the patient’s bone carries a risk of infection and increases the possibility of complications. UH researchers are working to develop a novel material consisting of a collagen scaffold that is mineralized with carbonated apatite. The matrix forms a composite that mimics healthy bone architecture. It has the mechanical properties needed for load-sharing and even load-bearing, immediately after surgery.
  • Focused laryngeal stimulation: UH researchers are examining a variety of methods to stimulate the larynx to function better after injury, disease or surgery.
  • Tissue engineering: UH researchers are examining new ways to create specialized cartilage in the lab that can be used as surgical reconstruction material in the eardrum, larynx and trachea.

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