ARIT 2017 Poster Session Feature: Lukas Landegger

Going beyond pure text, bridges will feature Austrian scientists from a new perspective in 2018, taking creative cues to communicate their science in a different light, tone, and color.

Discover the work of Lukas Landegger, our fifth scientist featured in the ARIT 2017 Poster Session Showcase.  

What do I want to achieve with my research?

Rather than with text, our scientists, answer this essential question using an image, emoji, cartoon or limerick. 

"How does my research make others feel?"

Our scientists mimics speak stronger than words! 

Your Science in Action: Applications of Inner Ear Gene Therapy – Hearing the Light

In December 2017, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first human gene therapy, marking a breakthrough in this field after decades of research. The treatment uses a viral vector – an adeno-associated virus (AAV) – to introduce a “corrected” gene into retinal cells. Similar approaches with AAVs in the inner ear (specifically, the cochlea) are still in the preclinical phase, but a study recently published in Nature Biotechnology may hasten the process. Lukas Landegger, a post-doctoral research fellow at the Molecular Neuro-Otology and Biotechnology Laboratory (PI Konstantina Stankovic) at Massachusetts Eye and Ear, Harvard Medical School, Boston, and his colleagues demonstrated the superiority of Anc80L65, a synthetic AAV, compared to conventional viral vectors. Cells that had previously been impossible to target were suddenly within reach! This advance stimulated a plethora of research ideas, not only at Harvard but in labs around the world.

Besides trying to fix genetic mutations leading to hearing loss, Landegger and several collaborating laboratories are currently working to improve present state-of-the-art therapy for deafness: cochlear implants. These devices have enabled hundreds of thousands of patients to (re-)gain some sense of sound, but are limited in frequency sensitivity, natural sound perception, and speech discrimination in noisy environments. It’s thought that the spread of electrical current used to stimulate spiral ganglion neurons limits the specificity of stimulation in modern cochlear implants. Targeting these inner ear cells is crucial, as their processes form the auditory nerve and convey information to the brain.

Researchers with expertise regarding Anc80L65 (Stankovic/Vandenberghe labs) and in optogenetics (Brown/Lee labs) have been able to incorporate and express the gene for a light-sensitive protein (an opsin) that alters cross-membrane voltage when stimulated by light. After administering the virus carrying the recently developed Chronos opsin (which reacts faster than earlier counterparts) into the inner ears of newborn mice, researchers detected high levels of opsin expression in the targeted neuronal cells. Drilling a hole into the cochlea and shining laser light onto it elicited responses from spiral ganglion neurons:Mice could hear the optical stimuli!

“This exciting proof of concept was made possible by essential contributions of earlier experiments that led the way, and the expertise of our collaborators,” notes Landegger. “The ideal scenario for future treatment of hearing loss would be to create an armamentarium of viruses that could be adapted, based on a patient’s needs, and subsequently used to restore ‘perfect’ hearing. However, many hurdles still have to be overcome.”

Challenges include: ensuring cell-specificity and thus minimizing systemic side effects; and committing a team of engineers to develop a device resembling currently available cochlear implants, to position within the inner ear and stimulate the cells with laser light. Even with such a more-focused stimulation pattern, clinical outcomes are uncertain, as many factors influence the subjective experience of listening.

But Landegger remains optimistic: “When the first cochlear implants were developed, some experts did not believe that they would ever work. Now they are the most successful of all neural prostheses developed to date. It is a fascinating time to work in this field and, while I hope many patients will eventually benefit from our discoveries, making a substantial difference in even one individual’s life is fulfilling.”

 

My favorite scientist:

Every single person who spends countless hours trying to expand the sum of all human knowledge.

 

If you read one science website/ blog/ book, it should be:

Something like Richard Hollingham’s “Blood and Guts: A History of Surgery”, which puts things into historical perspective and lets you appreciate some of the advances of modern science/medicine/surgery.

 

Without science, I would be a:

quack (with no malignant intent, but simply no means to adequately help people).

 

My eureka moment was when:

I was first exposed to basic science in medical school and realized that I wanted to become a clinician-scientist.

 

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ABOUT THE SERIES

The ARIT 2017 Poster Session Showcase will highlight select Austrian scientists of the Research and Innovation Network Austria. These scientists all participated in the coveted ARIT 2017 Poster Session, after having been selected by an expert jury from the ASCINA network and the Austrian Marshall Plan Foundation

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OSTA Exploratory Study
 

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Wednesday, 15 August 2018