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Albert Edge, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Otology and Laryngology, Harvard Medical School

Tillotson Unit for Cell Biology, Eaton-Peabody Laboratory, Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary

We are interested in basic mechanisms of cellular repair in the nervous system. Loss of sensory cells in the inner ear due to excessive noise, drugs, disease, or aging results in deafness. A major goal of the lab is to generate hair cells and spiral ganglion neurons, two of the important cell types for cell replacement, from embryonic and adult stem cells. These studies have provided insights into pathways used by these cells for differentiation and suggest ways to replace these cells either by cell therapy or by stimulation of differentiation pathways in endogenous stem cells.

Through these approaches we have been able to induce human embryonic stem cells to differentiate into progenitor cells that can give rise to several cell types of the inner ear. We are investigating the potential of neural progenitor cells to replace damaged auditory fibers. Stem cell derived neural progenitor cells, when grafted into the inner ear, express neural markers and form synaptic connections with nearby hair cells. The ability to regenerate these fibers can potentially increase the effectiveness of various treatments for hearing loss, including existing ones such as cochlear implants and future ones using hair cell regeneration. Additional ongoing work with bone marrow derived stem cells is promising, as we have been able to create conditions under which these stem cells, which would be a match for the donor, differentiate and express many of the proteins found in hair cells.