Mar. 25, 1999 Note to the editors: May is National Hearing and Speech Month.
New insights into therapeutics that can be used to prevent or treat hearing loss could result from research being done at Oberlin College by Assistant Professor of Neuroscience Lynne Bianchi.
Dr. Bianchi is investigating how a group of proteins called the "Eph" family (from erythropoietin heptocellular carcinoma, where the first molecule was discovered) influence a very specific neuronal cell culture-the outgrowth of neuronal processes during the critical period of embryonic development when the nerves necessary for receiving sound information and sending it to the brain are formed. Dr. Bianchi's research is assisted by junior biology major Tatsuhiko Kawaguchi of Japan.
After first determining that Eph molecules are expressed in the developing inner ear, Dr. Bianchi is now trying to learn what functions they might have. Based upon her discoveries thus far, it appears that Eph molecules might be key players in guiding early nerve fibers to the inner ear, reorganizing or maintaining synaptic contacts, or both. Several molecules are located in regions of the inner ear that suggest they play a role in forming the inner ear itself.
Eph molecules, says Dr. Bianchi, were first discovered to be a family four to five years ago: "The first receptor was cloned in 1987, but it wasn't until later that the ligands were discovered and people realized it was a family." The Eph molecules appear to play critical roles in tissue segmentation, cell migration and axonal (nerve fiber) outgrowth. A recent grant from the Deafness Research Foundation is funding Dr. Bianchi's investigation into whether Eph molecules form different regions of the inner ear early in development by providing cues to segregate the different cellular components of the inner ear.
Support for Dr. Bianchi's work is also made possible by a grant from the National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Deafness and other Communicative Disorders.
Science at Oberlin College is supported by an outstanding faculty, extensive course offerings, laboratories equipped with some of the most sophisticated instrumentation available, and numerous opportunities for student research, including individual research projects and frequent collaboration with faculty members on their research projects. Since 1920, more Oberlin graduates have earned Ph.D. degrees than have graduates of any other independent, primarily undergraduate institution-by a nearly 2 to 1 margin.
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