Konstantina M. Stankovic, M.D., Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Otology and Laryngology, Harvard Medical School
The inner ear is a fascinating organ in which many biological processes function at their extreme: the auditory nerve has exquisite sensitivity and frequency selectivity, cochlear endolymph has a uniquely high potential and concentration of potassium, the bone around the inner ear is exceptionally resistant to remodeling. We aim to understand how this unique inner-ear environment contributes to normal function of the auditory nerve, and how alterations in this environment lead to degeneration of the auditory nerve and hearing loss. The long-term goal is to restore hearing through regeneration and novel technologies. Our approach is interdisciplinary and we combine tools of systems neuroscience with molecular, genetic and genomic studies in mice and humans to arrive at novel diagnostic and prognostic tools, and therapies for deafness.
We are pursuing several lines of research, all of which are clinically motivated: (1) understanding molecular mechanisms by which noise induces primary degeneration of the auditory nerve without damaging any other cells in the inner ear, (2) defining genetic determinants of hearing loss associated with vestibular schwannomas - tumors that arise from the balance nerves and yet most commonly cause hearing loss, and (3) exploring novel therapies for sensorineural hearing loss associated with abnormal remodeling of the bone that surrounds the inner ear, as in cochlear otosclerosis. We are also investigating whether embryologically acquired deafness is reversible postnatally using novel tools of genetic engineering.