The Latest on Genetics and Hearing Loss

Friday, June 21
8:30 a.m. – 11 a.m. 

At HLAA2019, world-renowned geneticists will present the latest research on hearing loss that occurs later in life, and what can be done for families who have inherited the gene. In a rapidly moving field, much has been accomplished since the last HLAA symposium on genetics in 1999. There will also be workshops with families with known and perceived genetic hearing loss, talking about their experiences, genetic counseling and more.

The Research Symposium will be two hours with the moderator presenting a 20-minute account of why the topic is relevant to people with hearing loss. The introductory talk will lay the groundwork for the science that will be presented. 

Meet our HLAA2019 Research Symposium presenters along with a brief summary of their presentations: 

Thomas Friedman, Ph.D., NIDCD – Moderator

Photo of Thomas Friedman, Ph.D.Introduction to the Genetics of Hearing Loss

Genetics has come a long way in the past decades. Breakthrough methods have brought new understandings at the level of populations, organisms, cells and genes.  As the first speaker in this symposium, Dr. Friedman will give an overview of 21st century genetics that will guide you to understanding the scientific work of the symposium speakers.

Thomas Friedman, Ph.D. is the chief of the Laboratory of Molecular Genetics, National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, National Institutes of Health (NIDCD), and will serve as the moderator of the Symposium.


Zheng-Yi Chen, Ph.D., Mass. Eye and Ear/Harvard Medical School

Photo of Zheng Yi ChenFrom Mouse to Man

Studying laboratory animals gives an opportunity to understand the biology that underlies human disease and provide models to test treatments. Dr. Chen’s laboratory works to understand the problems that cause hearing loss at the level of cells and proteins. Using the methods of “genome editing” creates specially-bred animals that have hearing loss (for example mice and pigs). By developing treatments using genome editing for hearing loss in these animals, the hope is that this will translate into ways to prevent and treat of hearing loss in humans.

Zheng-Yi Chen, Ph.D.’s research interests include functional genomics of hearing, inner ear hair cell regeneration, mechanisms and treatment for age-related and noise-induced hearing loss (ARHL and NIHL) and gene therapy for hereditary deafness. 

Richard Smith, M.D., University of Iowa

Photo of Richard Smith, M.D.The Complexities of Genetic Hearing Loss 

Hearing loss can run in families. When it does, that’s important to know and understand. Dr. Smith’s laboratory studies genetic hearing loss. Using advanced methods such as massively parallel sequencing, one can screen all deafness-associated genes simultaneously in persons with hearing loss. The sequence data that is generated is compared to the reference human genome to identify variations. All variations are then classified as to their likelihood of being causally associated with hearing loss. This information is collected in the Deafness Variation Database, which was built to help clinicians and auditory scientists around the world understand hearing loss. Comprehensive genetic testing for hearing loss has changed the practice of medicine and is laying the foundation for new ways to prevent and treat hearing loss.

Richard Smith, M.D. is the director of the Molecular Otolaryngology and Renal Research Laboratories (MORL) at the University of Iowa. Dr. Smith is a world leader in the human genetics of hearing loss.

Patricia M. White, Ph.D., University of Rochester School of Medicine  

Photo of Patricia White, Ph.D.Focus on Function: Can Supporting Cells Become Hair Cells? 

Dr. White’s laboratory studies two important cells types that are involved in hearing: hair cells and their supporting cells. Hair cells are essential to hearing, and if they are damaged or defective they can’t regrow.  Supporting cells, which live adjacent to hair cells in the ear, can divide and re-grow.  There is evidence that under the right circumstances, supporting cells can be made to “differentiate” (transform themselves) into hair cells. If so, this could be the basis for a new approach to preventing and treating hearing loss.

Patricia M. White, Ph.D. is a research associate professor at the Ernest J. Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience, University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry.

Read more about the presenters here.

HLAA2019 attendees are eligible to apply for a grant up to $200 to help defray the cost of child and family care so they may attend the symposium. Contact Amanda Watson if you are interested in applying.  

The Latest on Genetics and Hearing Loss is being supported by a grant from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), National Institutes of Health (Award Number R13DC017913), and is sponsored by

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