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Robert A. Dobie, MD

ARO Past President

Robert A. Dobie, M.D., age 74, passed away on Wednesday, September 4, 2019, in San Antonio, Texas.

Robert Dobie (Bob) grew up all over the United States (US) as the son of US Naval Officer, Rear Admiral E.W. Dobie, Jr., and his mother, Geraldine Frances Bonnington. He matriculated at Stanford University for his undergraduate and medical student education, medical internship and surgical residency. As an undergraduate, he was a National Merit and Phi Beta Kappa scholar, and he also served as the president of his medical school class. Consistent with his childhood

experiences, his academic and clinical careers were similarly diverse, both institutionally and geographically. Bob completed research and clinical fellowships in auditory physiology and neurotology with Charles I. Berlin at the Kresge Hearing Research Laboratory of the South, at the Louisiana State University Medical Center, New Orleans, and Professor Ugo Fisch at University Hospital, Zurich, respectively. He joined the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at the University of Washington in 1975, rapidly rising to full professor. He was a founder and the initial Director of the Virginia Merrill Bloedel Hearing Research Center there from 1988-1990.

In 1990, Bob was appointed Professor and Chairman of the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (OHNS) at the University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio (UTHSCA), and he made this his academic base for the remainder of his career. He also served as the Director of Extramural Research at the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), from 1999-2002. During his tenure at NIDCD, he also held clinical positions at both the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, and the Veterans Administration (VA) Medical Center in Washington, D.C. After completing his service to the NIDCD, Bob accepted an appointment as Clinical Professor of OHNS at the University of California, Davis. During those years at UC Davis, Bob and Chris split their time between Sacramento and Half Moon Bay, enjoying the beauty of living near the Pacific Ocean and the joy of being close to their grandchildren. In 2008, they moved back to San Antonio where Bob returned to UTHSCA. In recent years, they established a second home back in Seattle, again to be close to grandchildren.

Bob’s impact on research and the clinical practice of otolaryngology are difficult to overstate. In particular, his work and service on regulatory committees related to the effects of noise exposure and aging on hearing in the population led the field, and provided valuable insights directly to national and international agencies such as the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the International Standards Organization (ISO) and the World Health Organization (WHO). His papers on hearing levels of American adults have redefined the roles of aging and noise exposure on age-related hearing loss, and related national and international standards have been revised to incorporate these findings. Similarly, his work on the global burden of hearing loss and the efficacy of hearing conservation programs and standards are destined to influence our efforts to conserve the hearing of individuals as they work, play and age. These contributions will have lasting effects around the world.

Among his many honors and awards, he particularly valued the Driftwood Award, which he received five times from the surgical residents at the University of Washington, recognizing his outstanding teaching and mentoring skills. Many additional honors and awards recognized Bob’s research as well as his many contributions to the academic community. He served as president of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology in 1992, and received both a Presidential Citation from the Triological Society and a Distinguished Service Award from the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery. In 2017, he was awarded both a Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Hearing Conservation Association, and the Carhart Memorial Award by the American Auditory Society. Along with his service on the editorial boards of wellrespected clinical and hearing-research journals, he authored over 200 scientific publications, including a seminal book on the medical-legal evaluation of hearing loss.

Bob is survived by his wife, Christine Jones Dobie, of 47 years; daughters, Pamela Dobie Key (Seattle, WA) and Monica Dobie Daly (San Antonio, TX); son, William James Dobie (New York, NY); sons-in-law, Thomas Fisher Key and Richard John Daly; daughter-inlaw, Isil Yildiz; grandchildren, Francis Knox Key, Robert Edmund Key, James Garrett Key, Fiona Graziella Daly, and Theodore James Dobie; and sisters, Sharon A. Dobie, Christine M. Dobie, and Donna Bonds.

Bob will be remembered by his colleagues and friends for his unwavering integrity, wellhoned wit, incisive reasoning, outstanding and compassionate service as a physician and surgeon, and passionate teaching, as well as being a dedicated teammate. His family will cherish the memories of his tight hugs, thoughtful counsel, keen wit, expert joke telling, love of travel, support of education, and knowledge of all things.

Mass will be Wed 9/11 at 11:30 am, at St. Anthony of Padua, 102 Lornenz Rd, San Antonio, TX 78209.

Memorial contributions may be made to St. Vincent de Paul or Haven for Hope at: https://svdpsa.org/donate or https://www.havenforhope.org/donate.

 

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.