Student: Maddie Lorentzen, Undergraduate Student in Human Physiology, University of Iowa
Research Mentor: Douglas Houston
Generation of Functional Mechanosensory Organs from Pluripotent Xenopus Cells
The aim of my research is to recreate ear development in animal caps using defined treatments or overexpressed transcription factors. Animal caps are comprised of undifferentiated pluripotent cells, which I have learned to harvest from frog embryos. In previous studies, cells from animal caps have given rise to organ-like structures resembling the heart, kidney, and pancreas, however the ear has yet to be induced. In vertebrates the inner ear is the organ responsible for hearing and balance (vestibular function). It is derived from the otic vesicle containing various mechanosensory hair cells. Proper function of these hair cells is necessary to relay sensory information to the central nervous system. Decreased function of hair cells, evident by loss of hearing and balance, is commonly seen in humans as they age as well as astronauts following space flights. Subsequent to the induction of ear development in animal caps, we look to implant the organs into frogs that lack ears and their associated vestibular networks. Ultimately, this will lead to a better understanding of the formation of the ear and its potential to regenerate and restore function.