Hearing and Deafness

Harvard Medical School Department of Otolaryngology


Our researchers explore the biology of hearing at levels ranging from the molecular biology of zebra fish hair cell synapses to speech comprehension in humans. Research in our Audiology Department and the Otopathology Laboratory focuses on the connection between cochlear dysfunction, restorative therapies, and hearing abilities in human subjects. Research in our Eaton-Peabody Laboratories translates basic research discoveries in the biological bases of hearing into the next generation of restorative therapies for hearing loss.

Eaton-Peabody Laboratories

The Eaton-Peabody Laboratories (EPL), founded in 1958, comprise a multi-disciplinary group of 25 investigators within 11 research units dedicated to the study of hearing and deafness. EPL investigators include clinicians and basic scientists who bring together scientific strengths in neuroanatomy, physiology, psychology, pharmacology, electrical engineering, physics, mathematics, molecular biology, immunology, cell biology, and genetics.

The research interests of the group span the auditory system, from peripheral to central, from animal model to human patient, from normal to abnormal function, from neurophysiology to behavior and from the molecular and genetic bases of deafness to its treatment via hearing aids and auditory implants, as well as efforts to develop stem cell-based strategies to rebuild the damaged inner ear. Most projects involve collaborations among multiple investigators, and most investigators participate in multiple projects.

Doctoral research can be carried out with EPL faculty under the Program in Speech and Hearing Bioscience & Technology (SHBT), administered through the Division of Medical Sciences at Harvard Medical School.

Lauer Tinnitus Research Center

In partnership with the Lauer family, we recently established the Lauer Tinnitus Research Center, a research program dedicated to cultivating a deeper understanding of tinnitus and alleviating the condition through the development and evaluation of both medical and rehabilitative treatments.

The Center represents a major investment in tinnitus research from scientists of the Eaton-Peabody Laboratories, including M. Charles Liberman, Ph.D.Stéphane Maison, Ph.D., M.S.Daniel Polley, Ph.D., and Konstantina Stankovic, M.D., Ph.D., who engage in a variety of studies aimed at tackling this complex medical problem that has long eluded physicians and scientists.

Otopathology Laboratory

The long-term goal of our Otopathology Laboratory is to provide insight into the causes, pathogenesis, treatment, and prevention of otologic disease through the study of temporal bones obtained from subjects with well-documented ear disease. Temporal bones are studied by a variety of techniques, including traditional light microscopy, immunohistochemistry, and computer-aided morphometry.

Selected cases are also studied by genomic and proteomic techniques. The application of genomic and proteomic assays to temporal bone research offers great potential for realizing the promise of molecular otopathology. A computerized database is used to store, analyze, and retrieve all clinical and pathologic data. Our temporal bone collection also serves as a resource for the training of residents and researchers, and particularly for the training of academic otologists through research fellowships.

Audiology Research

As one of the largest and busiest audiologic services in the world, our Department of Audiology engages in research activities that span basic science to translational to clinical, all with improved understanding and management of hearing loss as the goal.

Clinically, the Department provides audiologic assessment and rehabilitation services, as well as specialty testing, including intraoperative nerve monitoring and newborn hearing screening services. Clinical innovations arise directly from patient care and research activities.

Our researchers use expert clinical software systems to improve patient care and service delivery, to streamline the work of providers in audiology and otolaryngology, and to capture data for ongoing patient management, quality assurance review, outcomes assessment, and research.