Omar Akil, PhD, is an Associate Professor in the Saul and Ida Epstein Laboratory in the Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery at the University of California, San Francisco. Dr. Akil received his doctoral degree in Biochemistry and Enzymology from the University of Casablanca Morocco. After working as a government administrator in Morocco for two years, he moved to Johns Hopkins where he started his research training, working on the mammalian cochlea and exploring the basis of efferent neuronal transmission and outer hair cell function in the inner ear. Dr. Akil moved to University of California San Francisco in 2004, where he began investigating hearing loss in mouse models of human genetic and acquired form of deafness. His recent work has focused specifically on the restoration of hearing in mice models of human genetic of hearing loss using virally mediated gene therapy.
Molecular biology of hearing and balance, auditory hair cell physiology, genetic deafness, gene therapy and hair cell protection.
The primary focus of our lab is the study of the molecular mechanisms of efferent control of the auditory system. There are currently a number of ongoing projects related to this topic, including the role of saposins and synucleins in the auditory system.
Our current work focuses on:
1. Investigating hearing loss in mouse models of human genetic and acquired form of deafness. We use a multidisciplinary approaches, including molecular biology, mouse genetics, mouse behavior, eletrophysiological recording, immunolabeling, histology and others methods in order to understand the important role of a protein involvement in the normal function of the cochlea and vestibular system. Our research should help understand how malfunctions of these proteins contribute to sensorineural hearing loss and balance disorder. Increasing knowledge of the underlying molecular and genetic mechanisms that lead to hearing loss and vestibular system dysfunction raises the possibility for novel therapeutics, such as those based on gene transfer and related methods that influence gene expression in affected tissues.
2. Attempting to restore hearing to mice models of human genetic of hearing loss using virally mediated gene therapy. This work stems from an initial study in which our lab demonstrated that the inner hair cell glutamate-transporter VGLUT3 is integral to the development of hearing, while a mutation of the transporter causes early profound hearing loss. In follow-up studies, we demonstrated that virally mediated gene therapy can successfully restore the hearing phenotype in a mouse model of genetic deafness. Based on this work, we are currently exploring additional models of genetic deafness to see if these results can be duplicated. It is thus reasonable to predict that the successful treatment approaches increasingly being reported in mouse models of hearing loss will establish a framework for developing gene replacement therapies in humans.
In addition, our interdisciplinary research includes collaboration with:
1. Dr. Tamara Alliston, an orthopedic surgery researcher at UCSF. We are interested in studying cochlear otic capsule development and the role of material properties of bone in hearing. Using animal models and molecular techniques applied to bone growth and development, we are examining how the material properties of bone enclosing the inner ear may contribute to hearing or hearing loss. This work may help further understanding of how metabolic abnormalities cause certain types of hearing loss, including otosclerosis, Padget’s disease, and other conditions that cause defective bone development.
2. Dr. Catherine Giacomini A pharmacologist from the Department of Biopharmaceutical Sciences at UCSF. We are studying the mechanism(s) underlying hearing loss caused by platinum-based chemotherapies, investigating and designing novel otoprotective strategies for cisplatin therapy and examining the otoxicity of newly developed platinum compounds intended for use in chemotherapy.
3. Drs. Said Saffeddine and Christine Petit, from the department of Genetics and Physiology of Haring in the Pasteur Institute France. For several years we have collaborated with these investigators on several projects focusing on restoration of hearing and vestibular function using virally mediated gene therapy in mouse models of human genetic hearing loss - the most recent of these being a model of Usher’s syndrome.
Techniques Used in the Lab
1. Specialized eletrophysiological recordings for hearing functions in mice including auditory brainstem responses (ABR), compound action potentials (CAP), distortion product oto-acoustic emissions (DPOAE), and contra-lateral suppression DPOAEs.
2. Standard molecular biology techniques (e.g., molecular cloning, library preparations, RT-PCR, quantitative PCR etc.)
3. Cochlea section and whole mount immunofuorescence and Histological methods
4. Electron Microscopy (TEM, SEM)
5. Viral and chemical delivery to the mouse inner ear (Postnatal day P1-3 and >P10)
Education and Training:
• BS: University Hassan II Casablanca, Morocco - General Biology
• MS: University Hassan II Casablanca, Morocco: Biochemistry, Cellular Biology
• PhD: University Hassan II Casablanca, Morocco: Biochemistry, Cellular Biology - Biochemistry/ Enzymology
Awards and Honors:
• 1998 High honor and jury congratulations for PhD thesis