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Aage Møller, Ph.D.

It is with tremendous sadness that we reflect upon the re- cent death of Aage Møller, beloved colleague, mentor and friend. Aage left us at the age of 90. Every person who ever met Aage, from members of his laboratory and faculty to countless colleagues around the world perceived Aage as a uniquely kind, honest, gen- erous, open-minded and thoughtful man: young at heart even at an advanced age. Always eager to learn and advance science, with a unique gift of simplifying difficult topics by integrating anatomy and physiology, and a wonderful capacity to detect signal in a noisy environment, to pick up new theories and translating them to the clinical realm. Aage was born in Denmark, trained at the Karolinska in Swe- den, spent some research time in Kenya, and later had two full academic careers, one in the neurosurgical department at the Uni- versity of Pittsburgh, and later, at the age when most people retire, he joined the University of Texas at Dallas, where he was still ac- tively teaching till a few months ago. Aage spent the years between 1956 and 1978 in Stockholm. Aage Møller initiated his studies on the middle ear and the acous- tic middle ear reflex in humans during 1956-1963 at the Speech Transmission laboratory at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden. In 1963 he moved to the Department of Phys- iology at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm to pursue experi- mental studies on the middle ear reflex in rabbits. His time at the Karolinska Institute was very productive and he received his doc- torate in medical science in 1975 from the Karolinska Institute. He later studied the cochlea and showed proof that the cochlea in a living animal is much more frequency-selective for weak sounds than loud sounds. He then turned to studies of coding of complex sounds in the cochlear nucleus in studies on rats using standard neurophysiological recordings but later began using statistical sig- nal analysis methods.

As an example of Aage ´s broad interest in sensory physiology it is worth mentioning that he performed stud- ies on the insect eye during 1972. Aage performed experiments on the special organization of the cornea of the insect eye with anti- reflective properties. These studies all culminated in a spectacular experiment with microwaves and a meter-sized model of the in- sect’s eye that was placed on the roof of the Department of Physi- ology at the Karolinska Institute. Aage will be remembered as a ‘Great Man’, both in academia and as a human. His academic career needs no introduction, hav- ing published more than 200 scientific papers, more than 100 book chapters, more than 20 books as a single author, and edited among others the first ‘Textbook of Tinnitus’. However, the way he did it exemplifies his wonderful personality, kind yet firm, open-minded but no-nonsense, famous, yet humble. Aage was a man of dedica- tion, to the field of auditory neuroscience, to his students, not only in Dallas, but throughout the world. This dedication also led to a second typical characteristic of Aage: courage. In scientific terms he was unafraid to go beyond the well-trodden path. Aage was never satisfied with the status quo and was always pushing the limits of experimental possibilities. He worked on audiology, neu- roscience, pain, fear, autism and intraoperative neurophysiology. He advanced the concept of maladaptive plasticity as a cause for pain and tinnitus before that was en vogue. He was also one of first to endorse translational neuroscience, bridging the gap between basic neuroscience and clinicians. And a third important characteristic of Aage was his perseverance, always in a structured approach, one step at a time, but with focus and a vision. Cutting against the grain in science is not for the faint-hearted, and Aage—like many of us—had to overcome many rejected papers, grants, and proposals. However, this never deterred him. When he had trouble getting manuscripts accepted for publication because the journals were only interested in auditory research performed with pure tones, which had little translational value for clinicians, he founded a new journal in 1978, dedicated to translational ap- proaches of hearing: Hearing Research. His journal had to fill a gap. He was its chief editor for 27 years, read every single submission, and sometimes accepted manuscripts if one of the reviewers re- jected it, if he saw merit in the manuscript. Hearing Research is now a standard in the field of auditory (neuro)science.

Aage was more than a wonderful teacher, researcher, and jour- nal editor. His interest in humanity led to motivating politicians in preventing work-related noise trauma in the 1970s, long be- fore anybody became interested in it. He also published about the hidden dramas in the medical system, with the same goal: preven- tion of trauma, especially iatrogenic trauma. Many readers will know him for his dedication to the tinnitus field, which he has helped to establish from a neglected research domain to a somewhat accepted scientific field. He developed the concept of dysfunctional neuroplasticity as the cause of phantom sound generation and demonstrated that the clinical problem of tinnitus, which until then had been an enigma, can be approached by neuroscientific research. His inspirational guidance, paired with his unselfish help, his organizational and communicative capacity, and never-ending support brought many of us into the tinnitus field. When the Tinnitus Research Initiative was founded in 2006 with the goal to develop better treatments for people suffering from tinnitus, he was extremely supportive from the first moment and encouraged many of us –at that time young and unknown clinicians and researchers –to engage in this area. He taught us that a precondition for successful translational research is communication across disciplines and this motivated him to create the Textbook of Tinnitus. Until his death he served as the chair of the Board of Directors of the Tinnitus Research Initiative and also co-edited to the second edition of the Textbook of Tinnitus. Thus, Aage can truly be called A Father of Tinnitus Research, not only because of the scientific work he has performed, but because he has been a father and mentor to an entire generation of young tinnitus researchers. With Aage’s death, the tinnitus field loses a pioneer, a teacher, an inspiration, and a friend for many. We lost a wise and great man. If Aage were reading this obituary, he would be telling us that life must go on and that everything will be okay. He would also want us to concentrate on better understanding the biological ba- sis of tinnitus, so that more effective treatments can be developed. Aage was a person with a vision and mission: make the world a better place through science. We are all grateful and blessed by having known Aage.

Aage, you will be missed. 

Hearing loss can significantly disrupt the ability of children to become mainstreamed in educational environments that emphasize spoken language as a primary means of communication. Similarly, adults who lose their hearing after communicating using spoken language have numerous challenges understanding speech and integrating into social situations. These challenges are particularly significant in noisy situations, where multiple sound sources often arrive at the ears from various directions. Intervention with hearing aids and/or cochlear implants (CIs) has proven to be highly successful for restoring some aspects of communication, including speech understanding and language acquisition. However, there is also typically a notable gap in outcomes relative to normal-hearing listeners. Importantly, auditory abilities operate in the context of how hearing integrates with other senses. Notably, the visual system is tightly couples to the auditory system. Vision is known to impact auditory perception and neural mechanisms in vision and audition are tightly coupled, thus, in order to understand how we hear and how CIs affect auditory perception we must consider the integrative effects across these senses.

We start with Rebecca Alexander, a compelling public speaker who has been living with Usher’s Syndrome, a genetic disorder found in tens of thousands of people, causing both deafness and blindness in humans. Ms. Alexander will be introduced by Dr. Jeffrey Holt, who studies gene therapy strategies for hearing restoration. The symposium then highlights the work of scientists working across these areas. Here we integrate psychophysics, clinical research, and biological approaches, aiming to gain a coherent understanding of how we might ultimately improve outcomes in patients. Drs. Susana Martinez-Conde and Stephen Macknik are new to the ARO community, and will discuss neurobiology of the visual system as it relates to visual prostheses. Dr. Jennifer Groh’s work will then discuss multi-sensory processing and how it is that vision helps us hear. Having set the stage for thinking about the role of vision in a multisensory auditory world, we will hear from experts in the area of cochlear implants. Dr. René H Gifford will discuss recent work on electric-acoustic integration in children and adults, and Dr. Sharon Cushing will discuss her work as a clinician on 3-D auditory and vestibular effects. Dr. Matthew Winn will talk about cognitive load and listening effort using pupillometry, and we will end with Dr. Rob Shepherd’s discussion of current work and future possibilities involving biological treatments and neural prostheses. Together, these presentations are designed to provide a broad and interdisciplinary view of the impact of sensory restoration in hearing, vision and balance, and the potential for future approaches for improving the lives of patients.

Kirupa Suthakar, PhD - Dr Kirupa Suthakar is a postdoctoral fellow at NIH/NIDCD, having formerly trained as a postdoctoral fellow at Massachusetts Eye and Ear/Harvard Medical School and doctoral student at Garvan Institute of Medical Research/UNSW Australia.  Kirupa's interest in the mind and particular fascination by how we are able to perceive the world around us led her to pursue a research career in auditory neuroscience.  To date, Kirupa's research has broadly focused on neurons within the auditory efferent circuit, which allow the brain to modulate incoming sound signals at the ear.  Kirupa is active member of the spARO community, serving as the Chair Elect for 2021.



I began studying the vestibular system during my dissertation research at the Università di Pavia with Professors Ivo Prigioni and GianCarlo Russo. I had two postdoctoral fellowships, first at the University of Rochester with Professor Christopher Holt and then at the University of Illinois at Chicago with Professors Jonathan Art and Jay Goldberg.

My research focuses on characterizing the biophysics of synaptic transmission between hair cells and primary afferents in the vestibular system. For many years an outstanding question in vestibular physiology was how the transduction current in the type I hair cell was sufficient, in the face of large conductances on at rest, to depolarize it to potentials necessary for conventional synaptic transmission with its unique afferent calyx.

In collaboration with Dr. Art, I overcame the technical challenges of simultaneously recording from type I hair cells and their enveloping calyx afferent to investigate this question. I was able to show that with depolarization of either hair cell or afferent, potassium ions accumulating in the cleft depolarize the synaptic partner. Conclusions from these studies are that due to the extended apposition between type I hair cell and its afferent, there are three modes of communication across the synapse. The slowest mode of transmission reflects the dynamic changes in potassium ion concentration in the cleft which follow the integral of the ongoing hair cell transduction current. The intermediate mode of transmission is indirectly a result of this potassium elevation which serves as the mechanism by which the hair cell potential is depolarized to levels necessary for calcium influx and the vesicle fusion typical of glutamatergic quanta. This increase in potassium concentration also depolarizes the afferent to potentials that allow the quantal EPSPs to trigger action potentials. The third and most rapid mode of transmission like the slow mode of transmission is bidirectional, and a current flowing out of either hair cell or afferent into the synaptic cleft will divide between a fraction flowing out into the bath, and a fraction flowing across the cleft into its synaptic partner.

The technical achievement of the dual electrode approach has enabled us to identify new facets of vestibular end organ synaptic physiology that in turn raise new questions and challenges for our field. I look forward with great excitement to the next chapter in my scientific story.


Charles C. Della Santina, PhD MD is a Professor of Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery and Biomedical Engineering at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, where he directs the Johns Hopkins Cochlear Implant Center and the Johns Hopkins Vestibular NeuroEngineering Laboratory.

As a practicing neurotologic surgeon, Dr. Della Santina specializes in treatment of middle ear, inner ear and auditory/vestibular nerve disorders. His clinical interests include restoration of hearing via cochlear implantation and management of patients who suffer from vestibular disorders, with a particular focus on helping individuals disabled by chronic postural instability and unsteady vision after bilateral loss of vestibular sensation. His laboratory’s research centers on basic and applied research supporting development of vestibular implants, which are medical devices intended to partially restore inner ear sensation of head movement. In addition to that work, his >90 publications include studies characterizing inner ear physiology and anatomy; describing novel clinical tests of vestibular function; and clarifying the effects of cochlear implantation, vestibular implantation, superior canal dehiscence syndrome and intratympanic gentamicin therapy on the inner ear and central nervous system.  Dr. Della Santina is also the founder and CEO/Chief Scientific Officer of Labyrinth Devices LLC, a company dedicated to bringing novel vestibular testing and implant technology into routine clinical care.

Andrew Griffith received his MD and PhD in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry from Yale University in 1992. He completed his general surgery internship and a residency in Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at the University of Michigan in 1998. He also completed a postdoctoral research fellowship in the Department of Human Genetics as part of his training at the University of Michigan. In 1998, he joined the Division of Intramural Research (DIR) in the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). He served as a senior investigator, the chief of the Molecular Biology and Genetics Section, the chief of the Otolaryngology Branch, and the director of the DIR, as well as the deputy director for Intramural Clinical Research across the NIH Intramural Research Program. His research program identifies and characterizes molecular and cellular mechanisms of normal and disordered hearing and balance in humans and mouse models. Two primary interests of his program have been hearing loss associated with enlargement of the vestibular aqueduct, and the function of TMC genes and proteins. The latter work lead to the discovery that the deafness gene product TMC1 is a component of the hair cell sensory transduction channel. Since July of 2020, he has served as the Senior Associate Dean of Research and a Professor of Otolaryngology and Physiology in the College of Medicine at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.

Gwenaëlle S. G. Géléoc obtained a PhD in Sensory Neurobiology from the University of Sciences in Montpellier (France) in 1996. She performed part of her PhD training at the University of Sussex, UK where she characterized sensory transduction in vestibular hair cells and a performed a comparative study between vestibular and cochlear hair cells. Gwenaelle continued her training as an electrophysiologist at University College London studying outer hair cell motility and at Harvard Medical School studying modulation of mechanotransduction in vestibular hair cells. As an independent investigator at the University of Virginia, she expanded this work and characterized the developmental acquisition of sensory transduction in mouse vestibular hair cells, the developmental acquisition of voltage-sensitive conductances in vestibular hair cells and the tonotopic gradient in the acquisition of sensory transduction in the mouse cochlea. This work along with quantitative spatio-temporal studies performed on several hair cell mechanotransduction candidates lead her to TMC1 and 2 and long-term collaborations with Andrew Griffith and Jeff Holt. Dr. Géléoc is currently Assistant Professor of Otolaryngology, at Boston Children’s Hospital where she continues to study molecular players involved in the development and function of hair cells of the inner ear and develops new therapies for the treatment of deafness and balance, with a particular focus on Usher syndrome.

Jeff Holt earned a doctorate from the Department of Physiology at the University of Rochester in 1995 for his studies of inward rectifier potassium channels in saccular hair cells.  He went on to a post-doctoral position in the Neurobiology Department at Harvard Medical School and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, where he characterized sensory transduction and adaptation in hair cells and developed a viral vector system to transfect cultured hair cells.  Dr. Holt’s first faculty position was in the Neuroscience Department at the University of Virginia.  In 2011 the lab moved to Boston Children’s Hospital / Harvard Medical School.  Dr. Holt is currently a Professor in the Departments of Otolaryngology and Neurology in the F.M. Kirby Neurobiology Center.  Dr. Holt and his team have been studying sensory transduction in auditory and vestibular hair cells over the past 20 years, with particular focus on TMC1 and TMC2 over the past 12 years.  This work lead to the discovery that TMC1 forms the hair cell transduction channel.  His work also focuses on development gene therapy strategies for genetic hearing loss.