Question: How did you first become interested in this research?
Explore This IssueSeptember 2011
Answer: I think I’ve always been interested in hearing. My mother was the chief audiologist for Israel and her office was in the school for the deaf, across the street from my high school. I had a lot of exposure to hearing-impaired individuals.
Q: You graduated from medical school and earned a PhD at Tel Aviv University. What brought you to the U.S.?
A: Early in medical school, it was clear I wanted a combined research and medicine career.…I came to the U.S. for residency training at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Our department chair, Professor Scott Strome, MD, is very supportive of surgeon-scientists and gave me the support to build a research group and continue to do research in parallel to my residency training. What we did was take my skill set in inner ear development and genetics and his skills as a cancer immunologist to develop a different way to study the ear. We developed a protocol that allows us to study the inner ears of wild-type mice using a cell type–specific approach. We use flow cytometry, combine that with genomics and identify transcription factors that determine cell fate in the ear.
Q: What does this award mean to your career?
A: Truthfully, this award and all the process associated with getting it are really terrific.…Just applying for these grants, it’s a great learning experience. Getting the grant is very helpful because $40,000 is a lot of money for a beginning researcher. It allows me to secure research time and cover some of the expenses associated with whole-genome sequencing. It’s a stepping-stone to applying for larger grants, such as [National Institutes of Health] grants, as it will allow me to produce necessary preliminary data.
Q: What will you use the grant for?
A: We plan on using our protocol of cell type–specific studies in the ear to adapt ChIP to the inner ear, using an approach called ChIP-sequencing. We hope to identify many of the immediate targets of transcription factors that are absolutely essential to the development and survival of hair cells, as well as other cell types in the ear. We hope to identify genes that underlie hearing loss and identify specific targets that can be important for hair cell survival or for driving stem cells towards specific cell types in the ear. While these methods have been used in cell culture where millions of cells are available, adapting these approaches to the ear where, for example, a mouse cochlea has less than 5,000 hair cells, is a real challenge.