About the Otopathology Laboratory

The Otopathology laboratory at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary was established by Harold F. Schuknecht, M.D.,  in 1961 when he was recruited as the Walter Augustus Lecompte Professor and Chair of the Department of Otology and Laryngology at Harvard Medical School and Chief of Otolaryngology at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary (MEEI). A superb and gifted otologist, otopathologist, teacher and scholar, Dr. Schuknecht’s teachings and scientific contributions profoundly influenced the practice of otology and otopathology in the latter half of the 20th century. The principal focus of the Otopathology laboratory was light microscopic study of human temporal bones acquired from individuals with well-documented otologic disorders. The research work was supplemented by otopathologic and behavioral studies in experimental animals. An Electron microscopy laboratory was also established with the collaboration of Robert S. Kimura, Ph.D.

The ensuing four decades witnessed a rapid growth of the 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 were further expanded with the creation of additional research laboratories under the direction of Joseph B. Nadol, Jr., M.D. in 1974 (Electron microscopy of the human ear), Michael J. McKenna, M.D. in 1989 (Molecular otopathology), and Joe C. Adams, Ph.D. in 1990 (Immunostaining and Immunohistochemistry of the ear). With the imminent retirement of Dr. Schuknecht, Saumil N. Merchant, M.D. 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 the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Dr. Merchant was a world-renowned clinical otologist, otopathologist, teacher, and research scholar. As Director of the Otopathology Laboratory, Dr. Merchant 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 has assumed directorship of the Otopathology Laboratory following Dr. Merchant’s sudden passing.

The temporal bone collection and the expert mentorship provided by the various investigators has attracted residents, postdoctoral 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. The International Otopathology Society, also known as the Schuknecht Society, was established in 1973: although originally starting with former research fellows of Dr. Schuknecht, the Society now includes students of other investigators at MEEI, students of former fellows and those with a serious interest in human otopathology. The Society has more than 150 members from 30 countries who meet in scientific session every three years. The temporal bone collection has been the basis of over 400 original articles, book chapters, reviews, editorials and eight books devoted to anatomy, pathology and surgery of the ear. Include in the books are such classic texts 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 the MEEI contains over 2,000 temporal bones, most of which were acquired from individuals with well-documented otologic disease. A temporal bone register contains a detailed description of each specimen including the 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. The temporal bone data are catalogued using a computerized database that greatly facilitates the retrieval of historical and pathologic information.

The investigators are ably assisted by a research staff that includes Diane Jones, Barbara Burgess, Garyfallia Pagonis, Jen O’Malley, Meng Yu Zhu, Connie Miller, Eileen Nims and Arthur G. Kristiansen. 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 the research effort. A number of hypothesis-driven research studies are currently underway- some of the 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. The various temporal bone laboratories also offer research fellowships for medical students, residents and international postdoctoral fellows.   Please contact one of the investigators if interested in a Research Fellowship.