Miller School Researchers to Conduct Department of Defense-funded Hearing Loss Studies

The studies will use gene therapy and hypothermia to investigate ways to treat hearing loss due to loud noises and aging.

Two teams of University of Miami Miller School of Medicine otolaryngology researchers will use Department of Defense Hearing Restoration Research Program (HRRP) grants to study hearing loss.

Xuezhong Liu, M.D., Ph.D., the Leonard M. Miller Professor of Otolaryngology at the Miller School, has been named principal investigator for a three-year HRRP grant from the Department of Defense.

Dr. Xue Zhong Liu
Xue Zhong Liu, M.D., Ph.D.

The $1.54 million grant will fund a study led by Dr. Liu, also vice chairman of research for the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, that explores treatments for hearing damage prompted by loud noises and aging. Both can harm the neural synapses bridging sensory cells inside the ear and the auditory nerve that relays sound signals to the brain.

Dr. Liu’s team will investigate two novel approaches to correct genetic causes of hearing loss using genome editing. Their goal is to correct specific, hearing loss-associated mutations or silence the expression of specific genes that contribute to hearing loss.

To do so, they’ll use gene therapy in the form of an adeno-associated virus that augments hearing loss-associated genes needed for the inner ear’s hair cells to function. The study will evaluate the potential human applications of two complementary systems—mouse models with human hearing loss-associated genetic variants and human patient-derived stem cells differentiated into inner-ear organoids.

HRRP also awarded Suhrud Rajguru, Ph.D., a University of Miami professor of biomedical engineering and otolaryngology, a second $1.46 million grant to continue investigating novel applications of mild, therapeutic hypothermia to preserve hearing after hazardous noise and blast exposures.

Suhrud Rajguru Ph.D.
Suhrud Rajguru, Ph.D.

Dr. Rajguru’s group, including collaborators Michael Hoffer, M.D., a Miller School professor of otolaryngology and neurological surgery, and Hillary Snapp, Ph.D., Au.D., chief of the Divisioin of Audiology and associate professor of clinical otolaryngology at the Miller School, has shown that local, non-invasive hypothermia therapy delivered to the inner ear protects sensitive neural structures and hearing after noise exposure.

The investigators will expand the safety and efficacy of this approach to noises members of the armed services commonly confront.

“We’re pleased that the Department of Defense and scientific community have validated the importance of the University of Miami’s hearing research program and the research we’re conducting,” said Fred Telischi, M.D., James R. Chandler Chair in Otolaryngology and professor of neurological surgery and biomedical engineering at the Miller School. “The new grants will enable scientists and clinicians to translate basic research findings into clinical tools and develop novel treatments for hearing loss.”

Tags: Department of Otolaryngology, Dr. Suhrud Rajguru, gene therapy, hearing loss, otolaryngology, Xuezhong Liu