Although sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) affects 600 million people globally and its prevalence is increasing, therapies remain limited. Advances in therapy development for SNHL are slow because we do not possess a method for visualizing the cochlea’s interior in living humans and relating visualized pathology to a patient’s hearing ability. To this end, we are investigating the ability of micro-optical coherence tomography (µOCT), a low-coherence interferometric imaging technique that requires no contrast agent and improves upon standard OCT in resolution and depth of focus, to visualize the micron-sized cellular structures in the cochlea. We recently demonstrated µOCT’s ability to resolve individual micro-anatomical structures that are critical to the hearing mechanism in the guinea pig cochlea; here, we further establish µOCT’s efficacy by demonstrating its ability to detect cellular-level differences between noise-damaged and healthy organ of Corti tissue in mice in situ. 3D volumetric and cross-sectional image analyses reveal severe damage to structures including sensory hair cells and supporting cells in noise-exposed but not healthy ears. In the most severe cases, complete elimination of the organ of Corti and surrounding supporting cells (i.e. “flat epithelium”) is visualized; this finding is particularly relevant for the development of gene therapies for hearing loss, as these therapies are ineffective in cases of flat epithelium morphology. Our results are the first to demonstrate µOCT’s ability to distinguish between healthy and damaged organ of Corti tissue, and motivate investigation into its potential to be translated into a clinical diagnostic tool for SNHL.
Janani S. Iyer, Gargi Sharma, Guillermo J. Tearney, and Konstantina M. Stankovic, "Visualizing cellular markers of sensorineural hearing loss in the murine cochlea using micro-optical coherence tomography (Conference Presentation)," Proc. SPIE 10469, Optical Imaging, Therapeutics, and Advanced Technology in Head and Neck Surgery and Otolaryngology 2018, 104690R (Presented at SPIE BiOS: January 28, 2018; Published: 14 March 2018); https://doi.org/10.1117/12.2288733.5751476025001.
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