The 2020-2021 Amelia Peabody Scholarship has been awarded jointly to Junhui (Christine) Liu and Stephen McInturff, G2 and G4 students, respectively, in the Harvard Speech and Hearing Bioscience and Technology (SHBT) Program. In addition, the committee awarded a professional development prize to Meenakshi Asokan, a G5 student.
Christine is doing her doctoral research with Dr. Anne Takesian of the Department of Otolaryngology at Massachusetts Eye and Ear (MEE). She is interested in neural mechanisms of auditory plasticity, with the goal of identifying novel ways to stimulate brain rewiring following peripheral hearing loss or neurological disorders. Her research focuses on a group of inhibitory neurons in superficial layers of the auditory cortex that plays a role in regulating cortical plasticity. Using a combination of trans-synaptic tracing techniques, optogenetics, and electrophysiology, she characterizes the molecular identity, long- range projections, and synaptic physiology of these inhibitory neurons. Despite spending only a short time in Dr. Takesian’s lab, Christine was able to present a poster that sparked excitement within the auditory neuroscience community at the 2020 midwinter meeting of the Association of Research in Otolaryngology (ARO). Christine also has a paper in Hearing Research based on the work on "hidden hearing loss" she did in the laboratory of Dr. Nina Kraus at Northwestern University before joining the SHBT program.
Steve is working jointly with Dr. Christian Brown and Dr. Daniel Lee, both with the Department of Otolaryngology at MEE. His research aims at improving the auditory brainstem implant (ABI), a device that restores hearing in profoundly deaf patients who do not qualify for the more widely used cochlear implant. Using mouse models, Steve aims to optimize electrode placement for ABI and achieve more selective stimulation of neurons using optogenetics than is possible with electric stimulation. Steve also plays a key role in a collaborative project with Dr. Stéphanie Lacour of the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) that aims at developing new, flexible electrode arrays for ABI. He applies the techniques he acquired in mouse models for testing novel electrode arrays in nonhuman primates. Steve is author of a paper resulting from this collaboration in Science Translational Medicine. He also presented his research findings at several international conferences, including the 2020 ARO meeting and the 2019 Conference on Implantable Auditory Prostheses (CIAP).
Meenakshi is doing her doctoral research with Dr. Daniel Polley of the Department of Otolaryngology at MEE. She has a first-author paper in Nature Communications which showed that the activity of a class of auditory cortical neurons that widely project both to subcortical auditory centers and brain areas that regulate mood and emotion is greatly upregulated following cochlear lesions that mimic the pathology thought to underlie hidden hearing loss. Her work reveals how central auditory hyperactivity can impact the activity of brain areas that cause dysregulation of mood, sleep and compulsive behaviors. In ongoing work, she finds that auditory cortical neurons, but not subcortical neurons, can encode the percept associated with the transition from a regular sound rhythm to an irregular rhythm. This finding is one of the first demonstrations of de novo cortical encoding of an emergent sound feature.
The Amelia Peabody Scholarship was established in 2008 through a generous donation to support SHBT students working with MEE faculty. The selection was done by a committee consisting of Dr. Bradley Welling (MEE, Chair), Dr. Bertrand Delgutte (MEE), Dr. Evelina Fedorenko (MIT), Dr. Gwenaëlle Géléoc (BCH), Dr. Sunil Puria (MEE), and Dr. Kristina Simonyan (MEE).