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Keith Duncan

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Primary Appointment: Otorhinolaryngology Department
Primary PIBS Dept.: Neuroscience
PubMed Name: Duncan RK
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  Our senses rely on transformation, from the touch of a hand, a scent in the air, the sight of a friend, the sound of a child each transformed into a neural code that the brain pulls together into perception. In our laboratory, we are interested in the molecular physiology that underlies the transformation of sound in the cochlea. For this, we focus our attention on a group of sensory cells, so called hair cells, and the nerves that innervate them. We approach the study of these excitable cells in three inter-related areas: (1) Ion Channel Structure-Function, (2) Development, and (3) Trauma and Regeneration. Our goal is to unravel the molecular events that govern hearing and deafness in the ear.

Active projects include:
(A) Structure and function of ion channels and synapses in auditory hair cells. The onset of hearing is marked by a tightly orchestrated chain of events, including systematic acquisition of key ion channel types and remodeling of the hair cell synapses. We are interested in the molecular signals that regulate these events, the interaction partners that localize channel and synaptic components to specific microdomains, and the factors that influence ion channel/synapse biophysics.

(B) Stem cell therapies and induction of repair mechanisms. This project, funded by the DoD, involves the use of stem cell-derived neurons to replace auditory nerve lost from chronic deafness, genetic defect, acoustic neuroma, or head injury. The research aims to give hope to the thousands of patients that cannot now benefit from current cochlear prosthetics. In vitro experiments utilize next-gen sequencing, immunohistology, patch-clamp electrophysiology, and nanoengineering to explore fate specification. In vivo work seeks to replace auditory nerve with a stem cell-seeded nanofiber array and utilizes an array of surgical and physiological approaches to optimize integration of the implant.