Tiny hairs in the ear are essential to hearing

[PRESS INVITATION 12 May 2016] Many hearing problems are caused by damage to hair cells in the inner ear. James Hudspeth, Rockefeller University, researches how these cells capture sound and convert it to electrical signals, and how this knowledge can be used to prevent and repair hearing impairment. Professor Hudspeth will soon be coming to the Swedish medical university, Karolinska Institutet to talk more about his work.

Reporters are welcome to attend his lecture “Making an Effort to Listen: Mechanical Amplification by Hair Cells of the Inner Ear”
Lecturer: A. James Hudspeth, F. M. Kirby Professor, Rockefeller University
When: 25 May 4.00 pm
Where: Wallenbergsalen, Nobel Forum, Nobels väg 1, Karolinska Institutet campus Solna, Stockholm, Sweden

The inner ear contains an organ called the cochlea, within which lie some 16,000 hair cells. Each cell contains a tiny bunch of hairs called stereocilia, which are set in motion by sound vibrations. This triggers ion channels to produce electrical signals that, in turn, activate the auditory nerve.

“James Hudspeth has shown that the stereocilia are part of an active process of neuronal stimulation by sound waves,” says lecture host Barbara Canlon, professor at Karolinska Institutet’s Department of Physiology and Pharmacology. “It’s a sensitive process, which amplifies sound signals and enhances the cochlea’s ability to distinguish frequencies.”

The cilia are tiny and delicate and have to function just right for the sound to reach the brain; this constitutes the weakest link in the entire chain of sound transmission. Professor Hudspeth has developed new techniques for studying the miniscule structures of the ear requiring morphological as well as electrophysiological and biochemical methods. He is now also studying if it is possible to replace damaged hair cells and if this can be a treatment for hearing impairments.

The lecture is part of a large collaboration between the USA’s Rockefeller University and Karolinska Institutet. Rockefeller University is widely renowned for its research and education in the medical field, and has produced over 20 Nobel laureates. The so-called “Nicholson Lectures” are held annually by researchers from Karolinska Institutet and Rockefeller University in the respective countries.The programme also includes an exchange programme whereby researchers from one institution spend a period of time working at the other.

For further information, please contact:
Barbara Canlon, PhD, Professor 
Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, Karolinska Institutet
+46 (0)8 524 872 48, +46 (0)70 689 72 48 (mobile)

James Hudspeth, MD, PhD, F.M. Kirby Professor
Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Rockefeller University, Laboratory of Sensory Neuroscience

Sabina Bossi, Press Contact, Karolinska Institutet
+46 (0)8 524 860 66, +46 (0)70 614 60 66 (mobile)

Karolinska Institutet is one of the world's leading medical universities. Its vision is to significantly contribute to the improvement of human health. Karolinska Institutet accounts for over 40 per cent of the medical academic research conducted in Sweden and offers the country´s broadest range of education in medicine and health sciences. The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet selects the Nobel laureates in Physiology or Medicine.