IUPUI Biology Professor Recieves Grant To Explore Cellular Development In Cranial Nerve, Hearing

Release Date: 
Oct 20 2009

Study will advance research in cells that contribute to hearing loss

Indianapolis, IN, Oct. 20, 2009 - The National Institute of Deafness and other Communication Disorders at the National Institutes of Health recently awarded Dr. James Marrs, an Associate Professor of Biology at the School of Science at IUPUI, a two year grant for $780,000 to explore the molecular and cellular mechanisms of inner ear development. Specifically, Dr. Marrs' research will help to acquire a more thorough understanding of statoacoustic ganglion (SAG) cranial nerve development.

Neuron loss contributes significantly to hearing loss, particularly in the aging population. Future treatments, particularly stem cell therapies, will require detailed understanding of SAG developmental processes. Marrs, along with graduate, undergraduate and post doctoral students, will analyze molecular and cellular mechanisms in zebrafish embryos to gain fundamental understanding of how the nerve cells of the inner ear develop.

The research will use time lapse imaging, a technique developed by Marrs, by which researchers can study SAG development in the small and rapidly developing zebrafish embryo. Experiments will analyze roles for cell adhesion molecules in cell migration and other cell behaviors during formation of the cranial nerve.

"The NIH is specifically interested in the time lapse image technique and its use for future research of cranial nerve formation," said Marrs. "By analyzing neurons migrating, scientists will be able to gain a deeper understanding of how genes control nerve development." Marrs' research investigates cell-cell junctional complexes and their function in the establishment and maintenance of cell polarity. Cell polarity mechanisms act during embryonic development, during stem cell activation, during normal adult polarized cell functions and are disrupted in certain disease states, like metastatic cancer. The study of cell polarity will help development of stem cell therapies for devastating clinical conditions.
"Dr. Marrs' research is necessary for the future development of stem cell therapy," said Bart Ng, Dean of the School of Science at IUPUI. "This grant was funded by the NIH because it addresses critical research priorities outlined by NIH stimulus (ARRA) funding, providing a great opportunity to not only showcase the research activity of Dr. Marrs and IUPUI, but also helping future studies of neuron, cell and nerve development."