Ronna Hertzano, M.D. Ph.D., Chief
Our hearing depends on highly specialized mechanosensitive sensory cells named hair cells (HCs). The progressive loss of HCs is either the cause or the final common pathway of most forms of age-related hearing loss (ARHL), with outer hair cells (OHCs) being particularly sensitive. Attempts to induce cochlear HC fates from stem cells, in an effort towards regenerative therapy for hearing loss, result primarily in the production of immature HC-like cells more like vestibular HCs. Thus, the current toolkit for directing progenitor cells towards mature and functional HC fates is limited. For these reasons, the first focus area of my laboratory is the study of the molecular pathways that direct hair cell differentiation and survival. To this end, we develop and apply a variety of methods for cell-type-specific multi-omic analysis of the developing and mature inner ear, and couple them with advanced bioinformatic analyses. We validate our discoveries using functional studies in model systems and share identified genes and pathways with our human genetics collaborators.
Similarly, it is equally important to prevent hearing loss, and in particular, age-related and noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). Through molecular studies of NIHL, we recently identified critical sexual dimorphisms in the response to noise and its treatments. For this reason, the second focus area of my work is sex differences in hearing and the cell type-specific molecular basis of acquired hearing loss. We currently focus on the role and mechanism of estrogenic signaling on the protection of the ear from sound over-exposure.
The third focus area of my research is the development of innovative tools for sharing, visualization, and analysis of multi-omic data. Here I lead an interdisciplinary team to make multi-omic data generated by individuals and consortia available in a meaningful way to both bench scientists and bioinformaticians.
Finally, I have a strong interest in mentorship, and my team consists of individuals with diverse backgrounds and expertise.