Basic Science Research

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Basic science researchers in the Caruso Department work collaboratively

Using the latest technology in genetics, stem cell medicine, neuroscience and biomedical engineering, researchers find advanced solutions for disorders of the head and neck.

Our Labs & Facilities

The Abdala Lab
Hearing/Ear
Carolina Abdala, PhD
The Abdala Lab, within the USC Caruso Department of Otolaryngology, studies natural changes in cochlear mechanics throughout the arc of the human lifespan. This research aims to provide a normative framework, but also to explore the mechanisms driving such change. Recent work is focused on the potential development and application of a combined reflection (SFOAE) and distortion (DPOAE) OAE protocol to understand and describe underlying deficits, not just detect and label sensorineural hearing loss.

The Auditory Physics Group
Hearing/Ear
Christopher Shera, PhD
The Auditory Physics Group in the Caruso Department of Otolaryngology works to solve fundamental problems in the mechanics and physiology of the auditory system. Current interests of the group include comparative cochlear mechanics, cochlear nonlinearity and amplification, middle-ear mechanics, and otoacoustic emissions.

The Friedman Lab
Hearing/Ear
Rick A. Friedman, MD, PhD
The Friedman Lab at the Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute, led by Rick A. Friedman, MD, PhD, professor of otolaryngology, studies age-related and noise-induced hearing loss using a genome-wide association approach in mice. Dr. Friedman’s laboratory has begun to define the genetic architecture of age-related hearing loss in mice and has identified several loci leading to susceptibility to noise-induced hearing loss. This work will provide important insights into the mechanisms underlying these common forms of hearing loss. and The mouse-model studies in the mouse provide thegive researchers the power to begin to understand understanding gene X environment interactions.

The Kalluri Lab
Hearing/Ear
Radha Kalluri, PhD
The Kalluri Lab at the Zilkha Neurogentic Institute, led by Radha Kalluri, PhD, assistant professor of otolaryngology, explores the cochlea, an elegant hydromechanical structure in the ear, that which works to separate sounds of different frequencies and maps them onto a different place on the sensory epithelium. Specialized sensory cells that provide feedback forces to actively amplify local mechanical resonances refine this frequency-place map within the cochlea. Research is focused on understanding the biophysical mechanisms by which the auditory periphery parses frequency and intensity information, and how these
functions degrade with hearing loss.

The Ohyama Lab
Hearing/Ear
Takahiro Ohyama, PhD
The Ohyama Lab at the Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute, led by Takahiro Ohyama, PhD, assistant professor of research otolaryngology is investigating how the cochlea develops during embryonic development. They discovered BMP signaling pathway is important for cell fate decision between sensory and non-sensory structure of mammalian cochlea. The lab is also analyzing the mechanisms how migrating neural crest cells are incorporated into the non-sensory structure of developing cochlea, which is crucial for proper hearing functions.

The Segil Lab
Hearing/Ear
Neil Segil, PhD
The Segil Lab at the Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Stem Cell Research and Regenerative Medicine, led by Neil Segil, PhD, professor of research stem cell biology & regenerative medicine, otolaryngology, explores the death of sensory hair cells in the inner ear and their failure to regenerate – the major cause of deafness. The long-term goal of the laboratory is the treatment of deafness through regeneration of these sensory hair cells.

Jon-Paul Pepper, MD
Facial Nerve Paralysis
Jon-Paul Pepper, MD
Jon-Paul Pepper, MD, assistant professor of clinical otolaryngology, working alongside stem cell researcher Justin Ichida, PhD, is exploring transforming a patient’s own skin cells (fibroblasts) into stem cells. These stem cells can be differentiated into working motor neurons that are able to grow and innervate muscle to apply this technology to the treatment of peripheral nerve paralysis. Pepper treats facial paralysis and performs surgeries that restore movement to the paralyzed face. Ichida and Pepper’s research proposes that patients will be able to use their own skin cells as a source for both stem cells and motor neurons. These cells are perfectly matched to the patient’s immune system and can be combined with traditional surgical treatments for paralysis. More importantly, this therapy will some day be accessible through a simple skin biopsy and therefore is an exciting new frontier in the treatment of nerve injury and other neurodegenerative disease.

Current Research
Our researchers at the Facial Nerve Center are currently studying the role of stem cells in the treatment of peripheral motor nerve injury in facial paralysis.

Injury to motor nerves causing weakness or paralysis is surprisingly common, with worldwide estimates of 1 million cases per year. Even when surgical repair is possible, there may still be diminished function and strength, due to a lack of nerve supply. In the face, functional deficits are particularly disabling.

In preliminary research, transplanted motor neurons were derived from human induced pluripotent stem cells. These neurons were successfully transplanted into a mouse model of peripheral nerve injury. This serves as powerful proof of concept that induced pluripotent stem cells may be a viable source of sustaining innervation after nerve injury. We are currently in process of describing our findings in a mouse model.