2019 BIE Students

Julia Abitbol

Most of my scientific training thus far has focused on molecular cell biology. Currently for my PhD I am working on the cell biology aspect of the inner ear; specifically the importance of gap junction proteins in hearing. I’ve used both genetically modified mutant mice and cochlear relevant cell lines to understand the mechanisms by which loss of gap junctions cause hearing loss.

After defending my PhD this fall, I will be joining Dr. Alan Chengs lab to investigate the regenerative capacity and early cochlear developmental processes that are necessary for proper auditory function.

Ultimately, my scientific goals are to learn and implement more auditory techniques that I could use in my research going forward. I’d like to combine my expertise in cell biology with the auditory system to gain a deeper understanding of the cellular and molecular processes involved in hearing.

Rodrigo Alonso

I am a Biologist interested in the interaction between biophysics and neuroscience. I have a Master’s degree in Animal Physiology and a Ph.D. in Physics, both from the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina. As a Ph.D. student at the Dynamical Systems Lab, I studied the dynamical mechanisms underlying birdsong production. My thesis proposes a theoretical model that describes the activity of the neural architecture that drives the peripheral effector organs to generate vocalizations. For doing so, we modeled the activity of the neural architecture that drives the peripheral effector organs (i.e., vocal track and associated musculature) as well as the dynamics of the phonatory tissue that generates sound (syrinx labia). Then, we tested some predictions of the model with electrophysiological (multi neuronal activity) as well as peripheral (EMG activity) measurements.

I recently joined the Laboratory of Sensory Neuroscience at Rockefeller University. My current project focusses on the biophysical properties of Hair Cells. I work with the Bullfrog’s sacculus in a two-chamber preparation and I use flexible glass probes to mechanically stimulate the hair bundles and iontophoresis to deliver drugs locally on individual Hair Cells.

In the long run, I would like to explore the contribution of individual hair bundle dynamics on the active processes occurring at the organ level in the cochlea.

Isle Bastille

As an undergraduate, I worked in an optics / bioengineering lab developing techniques for calcium imaging in the dorsal spinal cord of an awake, locomoting mouse. I simultaneously worked in an evolutionary development lab where I conducted a comparative meta-analysis on visual system structures between birds and mammals. After undergrad, I worked for two years in an Alzheimer’s pathology lab studying the prion-like transmission of aberrant tau protein. As a graduate student, I spent two years in a blood-brain barrier lab studying mechanisms of transcytosis in CNS endothelial cells. However, as a third year graduate student I realized I missed neurobiology and thus switched to Lisa Goodrich’s lab this past spring. I am now very interested in understanding the transcriptional networks that coordinate the specification and terminal differentiation of spiral ganglion neuron (SGN) subtypes with a particular interest in the specialization of SGN synapses. I also run a journal club with my friends where we discuss topics in evolution and biology as well as other interesting topics (anything from phase separation in cells to the question “what is music?”).

Navid Bavi

I completed both my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Mechanical Engineering which was mostly focused on aerospace structures and materials. Yet I was always fascinated by the amazing field of biomechanics/mechanobiology, in which live and smart materials such as cells constantly challenge simple rules of physics and engineering for describing their behavior. Particularly at a sub-nanometer scale, how molecular processes, such as ion channels activity, that occurs quite rapidly (sub-milisecond) are involved in regulating human physiology was quite intriguing for me. So for my PhD, I completely switched fields from the different worlds of engineering to basic science, where I studied different families of mechanically-gated ion channels from bacteria to mammals. My PhD project had a strong emphasis on how forces from the lipid bilayer is conveyed to these channels and how they respond to such forces. Since 2018, I have begun a Fellowship at the University of Chicago in the pursuit of identifying novel genes that regulate mechanosensitivity in sensory tissues including in the inner ear. I am currently studying the structure and function of agene called prestin, which is responsible for electromotility of outer hair cells. Our laboratory is a structural biology lab – although suitable for pursuing the biochemical aspects of this project, we lack expertise in the physiology of inner ear and hearing in general. So this course will hopefully teach me about current genetic, molecular and functional assays that are widely used in hearing research.

Agudemu Borjigin

My previous undergraduate and Master’s training was in Electrical Engineering before I started my current Ph.D. in hearing research. I am investigating the role of temporal fine structure in everyday supra-threshold listening environments. In parallel with my current human research, I am also interested in improving machine listening in cocktail-party-like scenarios.

Kali Burke

My scientific background involves studying ultrasonic vocalization production as well as the perception of simple and complex signals in quiet and noisy environments in laboratory mice. My current research focus involves studying the effects of acoustic trauma and blast-induced traumatic brain injury on auditory perception and physiological responses to sounds. I am also investigating the development of chronic tinnitus from blast injury and correlating it to tinnitus that develops from chronic low intensity noise exposure. Other scientific interested include studying the effects of blast trauma on structural integrity in the ear, specifically looking at hair cells and ribbon synapses. My scientific goal is to delve deeper into anatomical analyses of auditory structures following different types of mild to severe brain injuries investigate potential treatments for auditory problems related to brain injury. My preliminary findings in blast induced traumatic brain injury suggest that an integration of behavior, physiological measurements, and anatomical correlates will be necessary for a more complete picture of the effects of blast exposure on the brain and the ear.

Atitheb Chaiyasitdhi

I am a biologist by training who has developed a strong interest in biophysics. I investigated about biophysical aspects of insect locomotion under thermal gradient and algal cell biomechanics during my under graduate and master studies.

My interest has shifted from passive biomechanics to active biomechanical processes in hearing. My current research focuses are on size control of hair bundles and roles of tip-link tension in hair-bundle mechanics. I am conducting my research under the supervision of Pascal Martin and Christine Petit. I am also interested in acoustic communication of insects and their collective behaviours.

My personal scientific goal is to comprehend mechanisms behind well-optimized systems that are shaped by evolutionary processes with the aim of applying this knowledge to create tools that mimic (or that are inspired by) the nature.

Karolina Charaziak

Understand the role of cochlear (micro)mechanics in generation of OAEs and CMs; understand how hearing impairment disrupts cochlear processing and how these disruptions can be effectively diagnosed.

Dena Goldblatt

My background is largely in molecular biology and synaptic development. As an undergrad, I worked in Suzanne Paradis’ lab at Brandeis investigating Semaphorin-Plexin signaling in mammalian hippocampal synapse formation. Currently, I’m a 3rd year graduate student in David Schoppik’s lab at NYU. Here, I use the zebrafish gaze stabilization reflex as a framework to define molecular strategies that wire interneurons into functional, multi-synaptic circuit architecture. I am also broadly interested in how sensory information from the inner ear can recruit or refine downstream architectural connections.

Other scientific interests include scientific writing (I recently began contributing for PreLights) and mentoring/outreach at the K-12 and undergraduate level. My immediate goals are to broaden my toolbox of anatomical and functional imaging methods to investigate inner ear and vestibular circuit development

Renata Knoll

I have experience with the course subject matter at the clinical and basic science levels. In terms of clinical experience, I am a fully trained  Otolaryngologist/Otologist from Brazil. In terms of research experience,  I have been working in the past 2 years as a research fellow at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary/Harvard Medical School, under tutelage of Dr. Elliott Kozin, Dr. Aaron Remenschneider, Dr. Joseph Nadol, and Dr. David Jung. My primary project focuses on auditory and vestibular dysfunction after traumatic brain injury. To address the current knowledge gap in pathophysiology and treatment of audiovestibular dysfunction following traumatic brain injury, our lab has been working through several complementary areas of research, including histological, experimental and clinical investigative approaches. In addition to medical practice and patient care, I aspire to an academic career. I foresee working as an academic otolaryngologist in a research university and continuing my training as a surgeon-scientist

Virginia Mahieu

I did my BSc in Neuroscience at the University of Sussex, and am now doing a PhD in inner ear physiology. I have always been interested in hearing as I am a musician and suffer from tinnitus. So, as an undergraduate I began working in the Kros and Richardson labs and carried on as a postgraduate.

My current research centers on modelling the MET channel using electrophysiology and genetic mutation. I am aiming to further our understanding of drug permeation through the channel, and therefore unveil new avenues towards protecting hair cells from ototoxicity. I am also interested in the gradient in morphology of the MET channel along the length of the cochlea, and how this affects permeation of drugs.

My other interests include memory encoding during sleep, cephalopod intelligence, and marine conservation.

Mackenzie Mills

Using otoacoustic emissions to study, cochlear mechanics non-invasively in humans, outer hair cell homeostasis in response to reduced endocochlearpotential, emission generation mechanisms (two component theory), and differentiation of noise induced hearing loss and age related hearing loss in mouse models

Using auditory brainstem responses to study the role of serotonin neuromodulation on auditory processing and how medical treatment of serotonergic dysfunction may affect the auditory system

Zoe Owrutsky

In college, I studied the neural mechanisms of anhedonia in a rodent model of depression using single unit ephys recordings and behavioral tasks. We showed that pharmacologically inactivating the PFC but not the lateral habenula could rescue DA neurons’ reduced responsivity to rewarding stimuli.

As a postbac at NIH, I collected neuropsych data from SZ patients and their unaffected siblings to study the genetic underpinnings of schizophrenia.

As a grad student in Dr. Dan Tollin’s lab, my project uses optogenetics and multi-unit in vivo electrophysiology to assess the relationship between MNTB-LSO population activity and wave 4 of the ABR.

As a neuroscientist, I am deeply interested in the role of auditory processing in psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and depression.

Samantha Rincon Sabatino

During my undergraduate studies, my research was focused on spiral ganglion in-vitro analysis of IR-induced calcium responses with hopes of providing clarity to precise photocontrol mechanisms of intracellular organelles and neural signaling pathways. After exposure to a broader expertise of inner ear research, I adopted a new graduate project for my doctoral studies: tackling the limited therapeutic options for noise-induced hearing loss. To this end, I hope to combine my knowledge of mechanical engineering principles and neural systems to develop a noninvasive hypothermia-inducing device that can offer structural neuroprotection from acoustic trauma.

One of my long-term research interests involves developing clinically translatable therapeutic options for neurosensory diseases. In my academic career, I have noticed many innovative projects struggle with translation from laboratory to clinical settings due to limitations with animal models and controlled therapeutics. Overall, my long-term goal is to become an academic researcher and industry liaison to promote the development of novel therapies with potential for high medical impact.

Mahtab Tehrani

My doctoral dissertation focused on understanding the influence of estradiol on sexually dimorphic development of the song system in zebra finches. My post-doctoral research primarily explores how the basolateral amygdala participates in the interpretation of socially salient vocalizations in mice using optogenetics. I am most interested in elucidating the contributions of the medial geniculate body (MGB) and the auditory cortex (AC) to information processing in the amygdala. Currently, I’m characterizing response properties of neurons in the IC, MGB, and AC to these vocalizations in adult mice using extracellular single-unit recordings.

My broad scientific goal is to understand how the brain integrates auditory information, understands context and generates meaning. I am also interested in sex differences in auditory processing, as well as translational/clinical research opportunities in the future. I’m hoping I will have a better idea of the specifics as I delve deeper into auditory neuroscience research during my time as a post-doc.

Anna Vavakou

I am a biologist by training, with a MSc in Neuroscience. I have worked in phylogenetics and insect kinematics in the past.

Now I work on the mechanics of the cochlea. The question I am trying to answer is which are the mechanisms underlying sharp tuning and sensitivity control in the mammalian cochlea. Using OCT-vibrometry I record sound induced vibrations in intact cochleae in vivo, working with rodents.

My general scientific interests include neuroprosthetics and sensory and motor control and encoding.

My goal is that my work contributes in the understanding of the cochlear function. In the future, I want to apply this knowledge in the development of hearing devices and regenerative therapies for hearing loss.

Christina Vizcarra

I am trained as a chemist and biochemist. My research group studies mechanisms of proteins that regulate the actin and microtubule cytoskeletons, with a particular interest in a class of proteins called formins. My interest in formins led me to questions about cytoskeletal-associated proteins linked to hereditary deafness. We are characterizing the growing number of mutations that have been discovered in the formin DIAPH1. More generally, I am interested in how formins may be functioning in the cochlea and which of their known biochemical activities may be necessary in development and maintenance of the cochlear cytoskeleton.

Our lab has two other projects: (1) studying small molecules that inhibit formin activity and (2) understanding the interaction between actin and  metallothionein-3, a metal binding protein expressed in the CNS. My current research focus on cytoskeletal proteins was greatly influenced by my time in the MBL Physiology Course in 2007. I look forward to expanding my horizons and learning from the BIE students, TAs, and faculty!

Danny Xu

I am a computational and data scientist by training. Currently I am running a multi-disciplinary research lab at Idaho State University that focuses on drug discovery and drug-induced toxicities, including drug induced hearing loss. My current scientific goals are to 1) identify previously little known ototoxic drugs; 2) identify novel small-molecules to mitigate drug-induced hearing loss.