Otolaryngology—Head & Neck Surgery Basic Science & Translational Research | NYU Langone Health

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Department of Otolaryngology—Head & Neck Surgery Research Otolaryngology—Head & Neck Surgery Basic Science & Translational Research

Otolaryngology—Head & Neck Surgery Basic Science & Translational Research

Through basic science and translational research conducted at NYU Langone’s Department of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery, we seek to clarify the processes underlying diseases of the ear, nose, and throat. Our goal is to improve treatments for people with hearing loss, voice and speech disorders, and other disorders of the head and neck.

Otology and Hearing Loss Research

Researchers at our Division of Audiology and Division of Otology advance treatment for people with hearing loss through innovations that improve auditory function assessment and cochlear implant and auditory brainstem implant programming.

Noise Reduction Technology Android App

Trying to understand a speaker in noisy settings like restaurants, bars, or group gatherings can be difficult for people with normal hearing. It is especially challenging for people with hearing impairment.

A new algorithm for cochlear implant devices developed by David M. Landsberger, PhD, Roozbeh Soleymani, MSci, and researchers at the Electrical Auditory Research Lab (EAR Lab) helps remove the background noise created by multiple speakers. The goal is to improve speech understanding in people with hearing impairment.

The algorithm may have uses beyond cochlear implants, potentially removing background voices on telephone calls. It could make both cochlear implants and phones more useable in noisy situations. Our research team is developing an app to allow implant users and others to use the algorithm in real time. This work is funded by Kairos Ventures.

Enhanced Tools to Assess Auditory Function iPad App

Dr. Landsberger and the EAR Lab team are developing tools to evaluate auditory function. Available for free online, these tools are quick and easy to administer in either the clinic or research settings. The team is updating them to run as iPad apps.

Music Perception in Cochlear Implant Recipients

People with cochlear implants perceive music poorly. Existing commercial sound-coding strategies for the devices often result in distorted melodies, chords, and harmonic sounds.

Dr. Landsberger, Mario A. Svirsky, PhD, vice chair of research in the Department of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery, and researchers from the Laboratory for Translational Auditory Research investigate how to properly encode pitch and musical relationships to improve the sound quality of music, speech, and other environmental sounds for cochlear implant users.

Related research includes an investigation of music enjoyment in people with single-sided deafness who have a cochlear implant in only one ear, a treatment strategy pioneered at NYU Langone. These efforts offer new perspectives into the cognition of musical input and music enjoyment in people with hearing impairment as well as those with normal hearing.

Dr. Svirsky discussed parts of this research at a Rubin Museum of Art event, When All You Hear Is White Noise, which explored the experience of musician Peter Silberman of the rock band The Antlers during a period when he developed temporary hearing loss.

Adaptation to Novel Frequency–Place Maps in the Human Cochlea

The human auditory brain is remarkably plastic. Given enough time, it can adapt to major distortions in peripheral frequency–place maps, a tool used to indicate the relationship between the place of electrical stimulation from a cochlear implant and the corresponding perceived pitch.

To get a better understanding of this adaption process, Dr. Svirsky, in collaboration with Elad Sagi, PhD, Mahan Azadpour, PhD, Jonathan Neukan, AuD, and Annette Zeman, AuD, studies patients with single-sided deafness with the goal of improving clinical care for a wide range of cochlear implant users with post-lingual deafness.

Computational Models of Speech Perception in Cochlear Implant Users

Some cochlear implant electrodes do a poor job of encoding speech information, which can impede how well they improve speech perception for users. Past studies examined the effect of deactivating poorly encoding electrodes based on different measures, but the criteria about which electrodes to deactivate and how many of them should be deactivated were inconsistent.

In a current project, Elad Sagi, PhD, and Dr. Svirsky use computational models to simulate the effect of removing any combination of electrodes from a patient’s array. Using high-performance computing, they’ve generated more than 500 million predictions. These data may help guide the search for optimal electrode deactivation patterns based on each patient’s individual characteristics.

Smartphone App for Customized Frequency Table Selection in Cochlear Implants

Our researchers work to develop smartphone apps that allow cochlear implant users to self-select the most intelligible frequency-to-electrode table for their device.

Dr. Svirsky, Daniel Jethanamest, MD, and Mahan Azadpour, PhD, developed a pilot operating system to serve as an auditory input preprocessor for clinical cochlear implant speech processors. This enables interactive real-time selection of frequency tables in real-world environments.

Auditory Brainstem Implants for Hearing Impairment

NYU Langone Cochlear Implant Center co-directors J. Thomas Roland Jr., MD, and Susan B. Waltzman, PhD, and neurosurgeon John G. Golfinos, MD, pioneer the use of auditory brainstem implants (ABIs) for hearing impairment.

Our group performs the most ABI surgeries in the nation. We also conduct one of four U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)–approved clinical trials in the United States investigating ABIs in children. Our investigators are involved with several behavioral and electrophysiology pilot studies around ABI use in adults and plan to expand these studies to include children.

Dr. Azadpour and Dr. Svirsky study different aspects of sound perception in this population and use ABIs to provide stimulation, as well as to record neural activity in the vicinity of the implanted electrode.

In addition to their work at NYU Langone, Dr. Roland and Dr. Golfinos performed the first ABI procedure at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem. Audiologists Alison J. Rigby, AuD, and William H. Shapiro, AuD, successfully activated and programmed the device.

Head and Neck Surgery Research

Researchers from the Division of Head and Neck Surgery conduct translational research to advance treatments and procedures for patients with cancer and injuries that affect the head and neck.

Trachea Transplantation in Pig Models

Trachea transplantation research has important implications for enhancing treatment and reconstruction options for patients with head and neck cancer, crush injuries, inhalation injuries, and tracheal stenosis, a narrowing of the trachea that sometimes occurs in patients who have been intubated over an extended period of time.

Adam S. Jacobson, MD, associate director of the Division of Head and Neck Surgery, and researcher Dylan Roden, MD, performed a successful trachea transplant in two live pig models, demonstrating effective vascularization and tissue survival. The initial procedure involved subcutaneous placement of the trachea in the neck to demonstrate that the tissue can be transplanted and survive. The ultimate aim, and the subject of the next stage of research, is to be able to perform a successful transplant in the proper anatomical location.

Head and Neck Cancer

Zujun Li, MD, clinical associate professor in the Department of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery, and Michael E. Pacold, MD, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology, are studying low level laser therapy to treat patients with head and neck cancer who develop chemotherapy-related fibrosis and are at risk for lymphedema, dysphagia, and impaired range of neck motion. 

In another study, Dr. Li is developing a deep learning algorithm to better predict the risk for readmission and cardiac toxicities in patients head and neck cancer, breast cancer, and lymphoma. 

Voice and Speech Disorder Research

Researchers in the Division of Laryngology work on new approaches to restoring function and improving quality of life for people with voice and speech disorders caused by aging, tumors, and vocal scarring. Our team also studies how stem cells may help regenerate vocal fold tissue and accelerate wound healing.

Using Vocal Exercises to Improve Voice in the Elderly

As adults age, voice quality can diminish, impairing communication. New evidence suggests that voice therapy and vocal exercise training can improve vocal quality and stamina, but little is known about the neuromuscular mechanisms underlying these processes.

Otolaryngologist Ryan C. Branski, PhD, speech–language pathologist Aaron M. Johnson, PhD, and researchers at NYU Langone’s Voice Center conduct translational research using a unique behavioral aging rat model to investigate how vocal exercise impacts the nerves and muscles of the aging larynx.

In humans, our scientists explore how intense vocal training, provided via group singing lessons, can improve vocal ability in older adults. The overall goal is to provide foundational translational evidence for designing vocal exercise interventions that preserve and/or restore vocal ability.

Novel Therapies for Recurrent Respiratory Papillomatosis

Dr. Branski, Dr. Johnson, and Voice Center researchers conduct translational research on human papillomavirus (HPV) and recurrent respiratory papillomatosis (RRP) to gain insight into the mechanisms underlying infection and disease progression.

RRP, caused by HPV types 6 and 11, is characterized by benign tumors in the air passages leading from the nose and mouth into the lungs, sometimes resulting in a condition called laryngeal papillomatosis.

RRP tumors may vary in size, grow very quickly, and often grow back after being removed. There are about 20,000 cases of RRP per year in the United States, affecting adults as well as infants and small children who may have contracted the virus during childbirth. Approximately 4.3 per 100,000 children and about 1.8 per 100,000 adults contract the disease each year, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Researchers at NYU Langone test novel therapies for RRP. Preclinical studies of imiquimod, an FDA-approved drug to treat genital warts, basal cell carcinoma, and actinic keratosis, show encouraging outcomes.

Wound Healing in the Vocal Cords

Dr. Branski investigates the key biochemical switches underlying the development of scarring and aberrant wound healing in the vocal cords. He has found that the SMAD3 gene may be a master regulator of fibrosis. Preclinical studies that employ a nanoparticle to deliver RNA-based therapeutics to alter and attenuate SMAD3 transcription are underway.

Basic Neuroscience

We collaborate with NYU Langone’s Neuroscience Institute to better understand the vestibular and neurological mechanisms that regulate balance.

Using Zebrafish to Understand Human Balance

David E. Schoppik, PhD, assistant professor in NYU Langone’s Department of Otolaryngology—Head & Neck Surgery and Department of Neuroscience and Physiology, and a team of researchers investigate the neural circuits of zebrafish to better understand human balance and develop treatments for dizziness.

Zebrafish learn to balance by darting forward when they feel wobbly. They make good models for understanding human balance because they use similar brain circuits. By untangling the forces used by the fish while swimming and during the pauses between these corrective movements, our researchers may have uncovered a foundational balance mechanism—the mental command to start moving when unstable.

Plans are underway to advance this research to include children and elderly people. The hope is that it may one day help therapists better treat balance problems that affect one in three aging Americans, for whom falls are a leading cause of death.

Studying Song Birds to Gain Insights into Speech

Michael A. Long, PhD, associate professor in NYU Langone’s Department of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery and Department of Neuroscience and Physiology, studies the brain cell networks that are activated when young zebra finches learn to sing and, once a song is learned, to determine the interplay between brain circuitry and muscle movement.

We hope to apply this research to gain a better understanding of how the human brain encodes and produces speech in order to improve therapies and rehabilitation for patients undergoing neurosurgery for epilepsy or to remove brain tumors.

Monitoring Brain Activity to Improve Sound Perception

Investigators Robert C. Froemke, PhD, and Dr. Svirsky study sound perception with cochlear implants to better understand how the auditory system responds to this type of neural prosthesis.

In one project, a chronic recording array in auditory cortex permits researchers to monitor brain changes associated with a response to sound. A related project explores the use of locus coeruleus neuromodulation to enhance perceptual learning during the first exposure to cochlear implant stimulation.

For more information about translational research in the Department of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery, contact Kristin Montella, division administrator, research, and academic operations, at kristin.montella@nyulangone.org or 212-263-8182.