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University of Iowa News Release

April 26, 2005

photos: Ingo Titze, left; Tannin Fuja, right

New Laboratory Will Advance Voice Research At UI

A new laboratory in the University of Iowa Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology aims to answer questions in voice research, such as why one schoolteacher wears out his or her voice faster than another teacher.

Scientists in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the National Center for Voice and Speech and collaborators will use the facility to investigate genetic and cellular aspects of voice development and health. The new facility, the Laryngeal Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory, represents the first molecular biology research area in the UI Wendell Johnson Speech and Hearing Center.

People interested in learning about the lab may visit during an open house from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday, April 28, in room 324 of the Wendell Johnson Center on Hawkins Drive.

Co-directors of the lab are Ingo Titze, Ph.D., the Distinguished Professor of Speech Science and Voice in the Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology and the UI School of Music, and Tannin Fuja, Ph.D., adjunct assistant professor of speech pathology and audiology.

Titze also is executive director of the National Center for Voice and Speech (NCVS), housed at the UI, and Fuja heads the Molecular and Cell Biology Research Group within the NCVS. Collaborating UI departments include otolaryngology, pediatrics and microbiology.

"We stand on the threshold for what molecular biology can do for understanding voice and speech," said Fuja, who also is a member of the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center at the UI. "The hearing sciences are more advanced in this respect, but we now have an exciting opportunity for advancing voice research."

Researchers already know that some people experience vocal fatigue much faster than others and that the vocal folds, or cords, may be affected by genetic or environmental factors. However, little is known about what actually happens to cells in the vocal folds. In addition, other voice disorders and conditions are poorly understood at the molecular or cellular level.

Titze explained how the UI lab is different, compared to hundreds of other molecular biology labs.

"We will look at the cell growth and expression of genes in an unusual environment, where tissue is vibrated at frequencies of 100 hertz or more," he explained. "For most organs in the body, tissue movement is at slower rates, but not for the vocal folds. We're going to see what happens to cells and their environment when they get 'tossed around' at these frequencies."

Findings could eventually help lead to improved therapies and even have an impact on other fields, such as space flight, where people may be exposed to vibration, Titze said.

The faculty also are excited that the lab will provide opportunities for interdisciplinary research and for the department's graduate students to learn about molecular biology and how it impacts patient care.

"While we have collaborated with colleagues across campus on studies addressing the molecular and genetic basis of speech and language, we now have a laboratory in the department that will allow our students and faculty to directly learn and use molecular biology techniques to address their research questions," said Richard Hurtig, Ph.D., professor and chair of speech pathology and audiology.

"Future clinicians need to understand molecular biology and genetics well enough to assist in directing their patients to the best care," Fuja said. "The lab will help them so they can appropriately interact with their patients."

Fuja added, "We're very grateful to our department chair, Richard Hurtig, for his leadership and vision in getting this laboratory established. It helps build bridges between research and clinical practice."

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Science Relations, 5137 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 5224-1178

MEDIA CONTACT: Becky Soglin, 319 335-6660