About the Otopathology Laboratory

The principal focus of the Otopathology Laboratory, which is located at Massachusetts Eye and Ear in Boston, is light microscopic study of human temporal bones acquired from individuals with well-documented otologic (ear) disorders. Our work is supplemented by otopathologic and behavioral studies in experimental animals as well as through an electron microscopy laboratory, which was established in collaboration with Robert S. Kimura, PhD.

Since our establishment four decades ago, we’ve witnessed a rapid growth of our temporal bone collection with acquisition of new knowledge and important scientific contributions in virtually all aspects of temporal bone anatomy and pathology. The horizons of temporal bone research expanded within this time through the creation of additional research laboratories under the direction of current Directors Joseph B. Nadol, Jr., MD (electron microscopy of the human ear), and Michael J. McKenna, MD (molecular otopathology), as well as former investigator Joe C. Adams, PhD (immunostaining and immunohistochemistry of the ear).

 

Our History

The Otopathology Laboratory was established in 1961 by world-renowned otologist Harold F. Schuknecht, MD. As the former Walter Augustus Lecompte Professor and Chair of the Department of Otology and Laryngology at Harvard Medical School, he best known for his teachings and scientific contributions, which profoundly influenced the practice of otology and otopathology in the latter half of the 20th century.

With the imminent retirement of Dr. Schuknecht, Saumil N. Merchant, MD, was recruited in 1992 to continue traditional light microscopic temporal bone research.

The Gudrun Larsen Eliasen and Nels Kristian Eliasen Professor of Otology and Laryngology at Harvard Medical School and Mass. Eye and Ear, Dr. Merchant was also a world-renowned clinical otologist, otopathologist, teacher, and research scholar. As Director of the Otopathology Laboratory, he enhanced the methodology by which human temporal bone pathology is studied, including the application of genomic and proteinic analysis. He was highly innovative in developing a computerized database to store, analyze, and retrieve data that includes images that he made available to the scientific community on an international basis.

Dr. Nadol assumed directorship of the Otopathology Laboratory following Dr. Merchant’s sudden passing.

 

Our Lab Today

A number of hypothesis-driven research studies are currently underway. Some of our focus areas now under investigation include cochlear implants, auditory brainstem pathology, quantitative vestibular otopathology, biology of the spiral ligament, genetic deafness, and the molecular basis of otosclerosis.

Our investigators are ably assisted by a research staff that includes Diane Jones, Barbara Burgess, Garyfallia Pagonis, Jen O’Malley, Meng Yu Zhu, and Eileen Nims. These individuals have acquired special knowledge, skill, and several decades of experience in the preparation and study of temporal bones. As a result, they make invaluable contributions to the success and productivity of our research effort.

 

What We Offer

Temporal Bone Collection

Our temporal bone collection has been the basis of more than 400 original articles, book chapters, reviews, editorials, and books devoted to anatomy, pathology, and surgery of the ear. Included in the books are classic texts such as Pathology of the Ear (Schuknecht, 1974, 1993; Merchant and Nadol, 2010), Surgery of the Ear and Temporal Bone (Nadol and Schuknecht, 1993; Nadol and McKenna, 2005), and Anatomy of the Temporal Bone with Surgical Implications (Gulya an Schuknecht, 1996, 1995; Gulya 2007).

At present, the temporal bone collection at Mass. Eye and Ear contains more than 2,000 temporal bones, most of which were acquired from individuals with well-documented otologic disease. Our temporal bone registry contains a detailed description of each specimen, including the associated medical and otologic history, any available auditory and vestibular test data, a description of the histopathologic findings, appropriate photomicrographs depicting the significant pathologic conditions, a summary emphasizing clinical significance, and the otopathologic diagnoses. All temporal bone data are catalogued using a computerized database that greatly facilitates the retrieval of historical and pathologic information.

 

Training

The temporal bone collection and the expert mentorship provided by the various investigators have attracted residents, post-doctoral students, and scholars from many countries. Many of these individuals have gone on to become prominent academicians and chairs of otolaryngology departments in their respective countries. Those interested in training with us came learn more about our research fellowships here.

 

International Society

The International Otopathology Society, also known as the Schuknecht Society, was established in 1973 as an outlet for those interested in otopathology to connect. Originally starting with only former research fellows of Dr. Schuknecht, the Society now includes students of other investigators at Mass. Eye and Ear, students of former fellows, and those with a serious interest in human otopathology. The Society has more than 150 members from 30 countries that meet in scientific session every three years. The next meeting is scheduled for June 2018.