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2020 Award of Merit Recipient

Lynne Werner, PhD

Lynne Ann Werner was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The oldest of seven children, she describes her childhood as “unremarkable.” She received her bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University. Having sampled majors in biology, chemistry, education, and anthropology, she finally settled on psychology.

Following graduation, Lynne stayed in the Chicago area and began graduate school at Loyola University of Chicago, in the lab of Debbie Holmes, a developmental psychologist working mostly on visual perceptual development. In the Holmes lab she began her lifelong adventure toward discovering what human infants hear, completing a dissertation entitled “Auditory frequency analysis in infancy” in addition to several other papers on visual attention and a neurophysiology study on the goldfish 8th nerve with Richard Fay. Lynne then took a position as Assistant Professor of Psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University. Soon after that she was enticed to move her lab to the University of Virginia, and then in 1986 she moved to the University of Washington, where she rapidly rose to Full Professor with Tenure. She officially retired and became Professor Emeritus in 2017, but still continues to mentor junior scientists and to collaborate on research in other labs.

Early in her career, Lynne began running in her efforts to quit smoking. She ran her first marathon a year later and has since run nearly 200 marathons and ultramarathons. She no longer smokes. Lynne’s other interests include baseball, classical music and opera, theater, train travel, beer,
cooking, camping, and hiking. Lynne has been married to David Olsho for 48 years. David is also a runner. They have two daughters: Lauren Olsho is a health economist with a research focus on nutrition and risky behavior; Alexis Olsho is a researcher in physics education. Lynne and David have three grandchildren, Daisy, Sidney, and Willa, all of whom she describes as “sweet”, “smart,” and “good runners”.

When Lynne started her work on infant hearing in the 1980s, there were few quantitative behavioral data on young infants. There were careful observations of responses to a variety of acoustic stimuli, and there were studies based on the habituation of infant responses to sound that allowed researchers to determine whether infants could discriminate between two quite different sounds. However, these paradigms did not allow researchers to quantify infant sensitivity or to compare infants and adults directly. The  conditioned head-turn procedure developed by researchers at the University of Washington was a great advance that
allowed for estimation of both detection and discrimination thresholds in the clinic as well as in the lab. Unfortunately, the conditioned head-turn technique does not yield reliable results for infants younger than about 6 months of age.

In 1987, Lynne and her colleagues introduced a major paradigm shift in the study of infant hearing, the Observerbased Psychophysical Procedure (OPP). This procedure combines the conditioned head-turn technique and the forced-choice preferential looking procedure, developed for infant vision studies by Davida Teller at University of Washington. This method actually tests the ability of a trained observer to detect a sound or a change in a sound using only the infant’s behavior as evidence. It is incredibly powerful and has allowed the collection of reliable psychophysical data on a large variety of acoustic parameters in normal-hearing and hearing-impaired infants as young as a few weeks old.

Armed with this new, powerful methodology, Lynne’s lab produced a series of remarkable studies that told us how infants detect, discriminate, or categorize acoustic stimuli. Among the important findings of her experiments, is that while some infant perceptual skills are surprisingly mature by 6 months of age (e.g., high frequency discrimination, low frequency resolution, and pitch categorization), other percepts remain immature, even as infants begin to acquire their first words (e.g., gap detection and spectral ripple discrimination). During this period, Lynne not only trained her students in OPP, but opened her lab to colleagues from the US and abroad who learned the OPP procedure and applied it to a variety of research questions. It is not an overstatement to say the research from Lynne’s lab is the pillar upon which Developmental Psychoacoustics is built.

Age-related improvements in auditory performance were sometimes attributed to failures of attention, memory, or general “efficiency”. While such effects were considered uninteresting to some hearing researchers, Lynne and the members of her lab demonstrated that such cognitive factors had a direct effect of infants’ perception. For example, one reason that infants are worse than adults at detecting a tone in noise is that while adults listen selectively for a particular frequency, infants listen broadly across frequency. One consequence is that infants are actually better than adults at detecting unexpected tones. The idea that listening strategy changes during infancy and childhood has broad implications for our understanding of the development of speech perception and for pediatric audiology.

Another facet of Lynne’s research contribution is her attempts to interpret her behavioral results in the context of our emerging understanding of the physiology and pharmacology of the auditory periphery and the brain. This is apparent in  her early work, in her collaborations relating psychophysical measures to conductive, cochlear and brainstem measures in infants, and in her recent studies of hearing-impaired children. It is most apparent in her book entitled “Human Auditory Development” and in the many superb chapters she has authored and co-authored.

Lynne’s work has been widely recognized. Her R01 grant “Development of Frequency Resolution” was continuously funded, first by NINCDS then by NIDCD, from 1985 to 2018. She was elected a Fellow of the Acoustical Society of America in 2002. Since arriving at the University of Washington she has served as the research advisor to 26 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. She was recognized as Outstanding Mentor by the Student Council of the Acoustical Society in 2018.

Finally, in order to understand what makes Lynne Werner an outstanding recipient of the 2020 ARO Award of Merit, it is important to understand her commitment to her colleagues and the fields of Auditory Science. She served on or chaired more than 30 university and national committees and was principal investigator on conference grants, core grants, and a training grant. While this shows her commitment and leadership outside the lab, her commitment to her colleagues has always been a top priority. We have never seen her turn down a request to help with a grant or a paper, or provide advice, or attend a practice talk. Every letter for this nomination stressed Lynne’s commitment as a mentor and colleague and her leadership as a role model for women in science. Her students and colleagues are thrilled that Lynne Ann Werner is receiving the Award of Merit from the Association for Research in Otolaryngology.

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.