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3D Stem Cell Biology Research Group

Sensorineural hearing loss, the most common form of hearing loss, is caused by the degeneration or dysfunction of sensory hair cells or sensory neurons in the inner ear. Pluripotent stem cells have a unique capacity to become any cell type in the body and could be used to regenerate inner ear sensory cells or test new drugs before clinical trials. A part of the Department of Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery, the 3D Stem Cell Biology Research Group uses state-of-the-art stem cell and genetic engineering techniques to investigate new approaches to inner ear therapy.

Lead researchers in the group recently discovered a three-dimensional (3D) culture method for deriving mini inner ear organs, called inner ear organoids, which contain the sensory cells of the inner ear and function similarly to native inner ear organs. With this discovery, the 3D Stem Cell Biology Research Group is investigating unanswered questions about normal embryonic development and attempting to model congenital/progressive hearing disorders in a culture dish. Their ultimate goal is to produce new regenerative therapies for profound hearing loss.

To succeed in this endeavor, the 3D Stem Cell Biology Research Group is collaborating with a diverse team of scientists and clinician-scientists in biochemistry, cell biology, neurobiology, developmental biology, bioengineering and chemistry.

Primary Investigators

Eri Hashino, PhD

Founding the 3D Stem Cell Biology Research Group, Dr. Hashino’s research focuses on regenerating sensory hair cells in the inner ear. She is interested in studying pathophysiology of congenital inner ear disorders in order to identify therapeutic targets for these conditions.

Karl Koehler, PhD

Dr. Koehler’s seminal work led to the invention of a culture system for growing mini inner ear organs, organoids, from stem cells. His work now focuses on the applications of the 3D culture system in regenerative therapies for rebuilding the auditory nerve and other craniofacial tissues. For updates on Dr. Koehler’s research, visit koehlerlab.iu.edu.

Rick Nelson, MD, PhD

A surgeon-scientist specialized in Otology, Neurotology & Skull-Based Surgery, Dr. Nelson researches the mechanisms of hair cell degeneration in the inner ear with the goal of developing new treatments for sudden and age-related hearing loss.