Team work makes the dream work

Inner ear biologists work collaboratively to discover new treatments for hearing balance dysfunction

The Nayagam laboratory conducts a wide range of projects spanning fundamental neurobiology of the inner ear, regenerative stem cell therapies for hearing loss, drug discovery research for the treatment of hearing and balance dysfunction, and industry-focussed translational research projects with Cochlear Ltd. The lab is based in the Kenneth Myer Building on campus, and collaborates with auditory neuroscientists, ENT surgeons, bioinformaticians, biomedical engineers, bioethicists, audiologists and patient advocacy groups (hearing loss).

Some of our exciting research projects include international collaborative projects with the Dabdoub laboratory, University of Toronto. These discovery studies are directed at gene expression in the developing inner ear, and how these can be applied to new regenerative strategies for hearing and balance recovery. These studies directly inform our work on inner ear organoids for the study of human inner ear development. Work from our laboratories was selected for a Spotlight Symposium at the International Society for Stem Cells Research meeting in Boston in June (picture), which was co-chaired by A/Prof Nayagam and Prof Dabdoub.

The labs are also funded by an ARC Linkage grant with Cochlear Ltd and other University partners, to examine how soluble platinum from a cochlear implant affects a range of human inner ear cell types including neurons, hair cells and macrophages. The studies will lead to better management of tissue fibrosis and inflammation for cochlear implant patients, ultimately improving the longevity of their device. Additionally, we have multiple research students working on aspects of the project, with a focus on how platinum is processed by the immune cells of the inner ear.

Post-doctoral fellow, Dr Jackie Ogier, leads research into the protection of inner ear hair cells, with cross-disciplinary projects alongside the Graeme Clark Institute. Jackie, who is is currently funded by a Passe Williams early career fellowship, was recently awarded an ECR grant from The University of Melbourne to launch new studies into inner ear proteomics. These studies are geared toward the identification of novel therapeutics for inner ear protection.

Most recently, our lab was excited to be able to purchase an upgrade for our ABR workstation, thanks to recent funding from the School of Health Sciences. The workstation is the first of its kind on the Parkville campus and will allow for the objective measurement of hearing in a range of pre-clinical models. Given that hearing loss is a common co-morbidity, ABR is often sought as an objective measure that can be performed to reliably indicate hearing status. Our lab is planning collaborative multi-disciplinary studies with the Reid (Florey) and Bui (DOVS) laboratories, to describe the degree of hearing loss in pre-clinical models of epilepsy. This collaborative work will help to understand disease phenotypes, contribute to better treatments for patients, and build multidisciplinary research capacity across the School and Faculty. Please contact the department if you would like to discuss whether ABR can used in your pre-clinical research.

Pictured: Members of the Aussie-Canadian research team, who hosted a Spotlight Symposium on inner ear regeneration at the 2023 International Society for Stem Cell Research Meeting in June.

Australian-Canadian research team