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Center on Human Development and Disability
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Collaborative Research Area on Development & Disorders of Auditory & Vestibular Processes

Coordinator: Edwin Rubel, Ph.D.


The Collaborative Research Area on Development and Disorders of Auditory and Vestibular Processes encompasses the activities of several faculty members at the University of Washington who are interested in a wide variety of topics related to the normal development and the habilitation of hearing and balance function. Both congenital hearing loss and acquired hearing loss are a significant problem in our population, affecting approximately 8% of individuals under the age of 18. Hearing loss in children impacts many aspects of verbal communication, hindering learning and development of verbal communication skills. Balance problems are less common in young children but can accompany hearing loss, particularly following treatment with ototoxic antibiotics.

Researchers in this group study factors controlling the normal and abnormal development of the inner ear and its connections within the brain, with a focus on genetic and environmental factors required for establishing proper cell types, synapses, information processing and behavior. These studies include: 1) characterization of molecules that control normal development of sensory hair cells and other cell types in the inner ear; 2) identification of signals regulating establishment of distinct neuronal classes in the auditory brainstem and the appropriate connections between them; 3) examination of the impact of abnormal inner ear or brain development on hearing function and language; 4) identification of genes in which mutations cause congenital and acquired human deafness; and 5) development of biological treatments for patients with loss of hearing or balance function via hair cell regeneration.

Researchers also examine the impact of experience on the development of the auditory and vestibular systems by performing physiological, cellular, molecular, and behavioral studies in both human and animal subjects. Studies are aimed at: 1) determining how verbal and other forms of communication influence language development; 2) determining the intrinsic and extrinsic conditions affecting the development and maintenance of neuronal systems underlying animal and human communication, 3) identifying regions of the brain that are responsible for generating and comprehending language; 4) identifying ways in which the inner ear and the brain encode simple sounds (tones) and complex sounds (language); 5) developing ways to improve cochlear implant function in noisy environments and to enhance music appreciation; and 6) designing vestibular implants to enable patients to control sensations of dizziness and disorientation. Researchers are also unraveling cellular steps leading to drug- and noise-induced damage in the inner ear, and developing new drugs to protect inner ear structures with the hope of developing strategies to prevent acute and progressive loss of hearing or balance function in humans.

Investigators in this group come from diverse backgrounds that intersect at critical points within auditory and vestibular neuroscience. They bring both academic and clinical perspectives to their investigations. They interact regularly in formal and informal settings to discuss ideas and new findings and to promote the interdisciplinary nature of their research. Furthermore, researchers share applications and equipment required for molecular analyses, cellular imaging, cellular physiology, human testing, and computational development.

Faculty Investigators

  • Edwin Rubel, Ph.D., Professor, Otolaryngology/Head & Neck Surgery and Physiology & Biophysics, Coordinator
  • Mark Bothwell, Ph.D., Professor, Physiology & Biophysics
  • Eliot Brenowitz, Ph.D., Professor, Psychology and Biology
  • Richard Folsom, Ph.D., Professor, Speech and Hearing Sciences
  • Clifford Hume, M.D., Ph.D., Associate Professor, Otolaryngology/Head & Neck Surgery
  • Patricia Kuhl, Ph.D., Professor, Speech and Hearing Sciences
  • Elizabeth Oesterle, Ph.D., Research Associate Professor, Otolaryngology/Head & Neck Surgery
  • David Perkel, Ph.D., Professor, Biology and Otolaryngology/Head & Neck Surgery
  • James Phillips, Ph.D., Research Associate Professor, Otolaryngology/Head & Neck Surgery
  • Jay Rubinstein, M.D., Ph.D., Professor, Otolaryngology/Head and Neck Surgery
  • David Raible, Ph.D., Professor, Biological Structure and Genome Sciences
  • Jennifer Stone, Ph.D., Research Associate Professor, Otolaryngology/Head & Neck Surgery
  • Bruce Tempel, Ph.D., Professor, Otolaryngology/Head & Neck Surgery and Pharmacology
  • Lynne Werner, Ph.D., Professor, Speech and Hearing Sciences

University of Washington • Center on Human Development and Disability Box 357920 • Seattle WA 98195-7920 USA • 206-543-7701 •chdd@uw.edu