department of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery

Our Research History

The Department of Otolaryngology was formed at the Medical University of South Carolina in 1961. Warren Y. Adkins, M.D. assumed the chair in 1978 and immediately demonstrated his commitment to the development of a strong research program by recruiting John H. Mills, Ph.D., in 1975 to serve as Director of Research. Thus, by 1975 the Department had initiated the development of a solid research program with a focus on basic and clinical studies of hearing and deafness, including auditory psychophysics, neurophysiology, neuroanatomy, and audiology.

The department received its first R01 from NIH in 1975 (J.H. Mills, PI). The research facilities were located in a rented carriage house, and rental was covered by direct costs of the award. During the next three years, Drs. Adkins and Mills recruited two more researchers into tenure-track faculty positions: Richard A. Schmiedt, Ph.D. (from Washington University, St. Louis; neurophysiology), and Joe C. Adams, Ph.D. (from the NIH; neuroanatomy). Judy R. Dubno, Ph.D. (from the UCLA School of Medicine; psychophysics and speech recognition) replaced Joe Adams in 1991. Well-equipped laboratories for neurophysiological and neuroanatomical studies of the cochlea and brain, and behavioral studies with human subjects, were established in the Walton Research Building and in the adjoining Quadrangle Building, most of which remains operational today. By 1981, the Department's research efforts in hearing and deafness were funded by 3 R01s, 1 NSF grant and 1 NIH contract.

Progressing into the 1980s, in light of the high prevalence and complexity of presbyacusis, a decision was made to expand the research program to include basic science studies with experimental animals and aging human subjects, and integration of basic research with well-designed and executed clinical studies of human patients. This dictated a need for scientific expertise in traditional disciplines, such as anatomy, pathology, neurophysiology, neurochemistry, audiology and otolaryngology, as well as in rapidly emerging areas of cell and molecular biology. A program of research of this magnitude required financial support from several sources, and funding for multiple, interrelated projects and core support could be provided only through the mechanism of the program project grant (PPG). Accordingly, a PPG was submitted to NIH/NINCDS in 1986 and funded effective July 1, 1987. Competing renewals submitted to NIH/NIDCD in 1991 and 1996 were successful. In the 2001 renewal, the grant mechanism changed from the P01 to the P50 (Clinical Research Center) to reflect the increasing emphasis on human studies. The current P50 is funded through June 30, 2007. The successful renewal in 2006 for the P50 reflects new emphases and new expertise in neuroimaging, genetics and stem cells. Funding for the P50 is through June 30, 2012.

The Hearing Research Program has been strengthened by a close, 20-year collaboration with the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. Bradley A. Schulte, Ph.D., Director of Research in the Department of Pathology, brings expertise in cell biology, immunocytochemistry, and cochlear fluid and ion transport mediators. A mentor and 25-year colleague of Dr. Schulte is Sam S. Spicer, M.D., who is recognized for his expertise in pathology and immunocytochemistry and for his contributions to the understanding of epithelial cell structure and function. In addition to Drs. Spicer and Schulte, other major collaborators from the Department of Pathology are Hainan Lang, M.D., Ph.D. (molecular biology of the inner ear, and stem cell transplantation), Daynna J. Wolff, Ph.D. and Denise Quigley, Ph.D. (human genetics, gene mutation analyses), Daohong Zhou, M.D. (cellular mechanisms), Gian G. Re, Ph.D. (gene expression in human cochleas), Ling Wei, M.D. (cell death, stem cell transplantation, neural plasticity), and Lisa Cunningham, Ph.D. (apoptosis in hair cells). Collaborations with these investigators significantly enhance the molecular biology and genetic aspects of the program.

The Evelyn Trammell Institute for Voice and Swallowing, the first of its kind in South Carolina, provides a multidisciplinary center for the evaluation, treatment, and clinical research of laryngeal, voice, and swallowing disorders in children and adults. Dr. Martin-Harris carried her work and support for the Trammell Institute from Saint Joseph’s Hospital of Atlanta where she founded the Evelyn Trammell Voice and Swallowing Center. 

In collaboration with Dr. Lucinda Halstead, Medical Director, and the surgical faculty in Otolaryngology, The Evelyn Trammell Institute for Voice and Swallowing was established at MUSC in June of 2000. Historical and ongoing support from Mark and Evelyn Trammell Trust, and research grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH)/National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) led to the globalization of the clinical, educational and research voice and swallowing mission.

The faculty has developed a consistent trajectory of research funding and activity that has led to direct translation of clinical research results to state of the art patient care.  Voice and swallowing disorders research covers a broad spectrum including head and neck cancer, pulmonary disease, congenital anomalies, and neurological disorders that affect the voice and the ability to speak, eat and drink. The nature of the research involves clinicians and scientists in medicine, surgery, and health professions. Inherent in the research mission is mentorship of pre- and post-doctoral students toward successful careers as independent investigators in the mechanisms and rehabilitation of voice and swallowing disorders.