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University of Maryland School of Medicine Researcher Discusses the Genetics of Hearing Loss at National Otorhinolaryngology Conference

April 20, 2017

Ronna P. Hertzano, MD, PhD

Dr. Ronna P. Hertzano Discussed Her Research on Auditory Hair Cells

As a keynote speaker at the recent Association for Research in Otolaryngology conference in Baltimore, Ronna P. Hertzano, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Otorhinolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UM SOM), discussed innovative ways to study hearing loss – a condition that affects nearly 40 million Americans.

Focusing on the use of genomics data in her research, she outlined new ways to understand the development of hair cells that are essential to hearing. The issue is urgent, as there is currently no way to reverse hearing loss, largely because auditory hair cells, which sense sound and relay that information to the brain, do not regenerate. Finding a way to protect and regenerate these cells could transform the lives of people with hearing loss.

Dr. Hertzano’s research has focused on how these hair cells develop. In a study published last year, she and her colleagues identified a new role for a particular group of proteins, known as RFX transcription factors, in the development and survival of the hair cells. This work illuminated new facets of the genetics of hearing, and also pointed the way to eventual treatments for deafness.

Although the experiments were done in mice, Dr. Hertzano says these genes likely work similarly in humans. Eventually, she says, it might be possible to use our increased understanding of RFX transcription factor to treat hearing loss, by either protecting hair cells from death or fostering their growth. In addition, she and her colleagues think that they will be able to identify other genes that have an important role in hair cell function.

Dr. Hertzano works as both a scientist and a surgeon; her practice is focused on diseases of the ear and hearing restoration.

“Dr. Hertzano’s work is a powerful illustration that the school is forging new paths in this vitally important area,” said UM SOM Dean E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA, who is also Vice President of Medical Affairs, the University of Maryland and the John Z. and Akiko Bowers Distinguished Professor. “Her work opens up the possibility of new treatments for those with hearing loss. In the years to come, her work holds out the hope of significant clinical progress.”

About the University of Maryland School of Medicine

Commemorating its 210th Anniversary, the University of Maryland School of Medicine was chartered in 1807 and is the first public medical school in the United States and continues today as an innovative leader in accelerating innovation and discovery in medicine. The School of Medicine is the founding school of the University of Maryland and is an integral part of the 11-campus University System of Maryland. Located on the University of Maryland’s Baltimore campus, the School of Medicine works closely with the University of Maryland Medical Center and Medical System to provide a research-intensive, academic and clinically based education. With 43 academic departments, centers and institutes and a faculty of more than 3,000 physicians and research scientists plus more than $400 million in extramural funding, the School is regarded as one of the leading biomedical research institutions in the U.S. with top-tier faculty and programs in cancer, brain science, surgery and transplantation, trauma and emergency medicine, vaccine development and human genomics, among other centers of excellence. The School is not only concerned with the health of the citizens of Maryland and the nation, but also has a global presence, with research and treatment facilities in more than 35 countries around the world.


Learn More

• Association for Research in Otolaryngology conference

• Ronna P. Hertzano, MD, PhD

• Department of Otorhinolaryngology


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