I want to realize the promise of developmental biology for human medicine. If we can define, describe, and understand the molecular mechanisms that regulate cell division and differentiation, then in principle, we can manipulate cells and tissues to rebuild damaged or diseased organs.
We have begun this process for human deafness, which impacts one quarter of adults over the age of 65. For many of these individuals, decades of noise exposure results in the progressive loss of mechanosensory hair cells, which detect sound vibration in the cochlea. In mammals, lost hair cells are not replaced; consequently, damage accumulates as people age. Surprisingly, when we tested the developmental capacities of nearby cells to divide and create new sensory cells, we found a latent ability for regeneration. My work here at Rochester centers on identifying what molecules regulate inner ear regeneration in mammals. My goal is to find a biological treatment for noise-induced hearing loss.