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Meniere’s Disease

nguyenhuynh-web-size_1Affecting roughly half a million Americans, Meniere’s Disease is a disorder of the inner ear, causing episodic attacks of vertigo, nausea and vomiting, tinnitus and fluctuating hearing loss. Meniere’s disease tends to afflict people over 40 years old. Anh Nguyen-Huynh, M.D., Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the Department of Otolaryngology/Head & Neck Surgery, is focused on Meniere’s disease as both a clinician and researcher. An anecdote about a recent patient explains why.

“One of my patients enrolled in our clinical trial kept very detailed, reliable notes of his diet and activity,” he said. “From these notes, we were able to determine that his attacks typically occurred after he had eaten a high-salt meal or snack. While there is a generally-accepted correlation between attacks and a high-salt diet, his record-keeping prioritized a concrete line of enquiry that I was subsequently able to pursue in my lab.”

Meniere’s disease is particularly suited to simultaneous investigation in the clinic and lab, since it is not fully explained by genetic or environmental factors alone, but likely by a combination of genetics, pre-disposition and environmental influences or metabolic changes. Dr. Nguyen-Huynh's work is currently supported by the Oregon Clinical and Translational Research Institute (OCTRI).

“The OCTRI framework supports me in examining a problem from every possible angle to make as many connections as I can between what I observe clinically and what I observe in the lab,” said Dr. Nguyen-Huynh.

Dr. Nguyen-Huynh’s research uses a technique developed in mice by John Brigande, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the Department of Otolaryngology/Head and Neck Surgery, which bypasses the risks and complexity of creating a fully transgenic animal by creating one with one transgenic ear. This supports greater flexibility in targeting or shutting down specific genes which may be implicated in hearing loss and other vestibular problems. Dr. Nguyen-Huynh uses this technique to test suspect genes obtained from patients with Meniere’s disease. Vestibular problems are identified by comparing the length of time a normal mouse and a genetically-altered mouse requires to navigate a maze or swim a specified distance. Eventually, the goal is to find these genes in humans.

“Even though my clinical interest is Meniere's disease, my research is really about how the inner ear works to give us hearing and balance,” said Dr. Nguyen-Huynh. “The exciting part about what I am doing is that I believe my results will be relevant to the study of any inner ear disorder. “

The OCTRI structure also supports study of patients in a clinical research setting, using diagnostic tests in a highly controlled environment to determine risk factors and efficacy of outcomes. Dr. Nguyen-Huynh’s involvement in the training available in the Human Investigation Program is a key guide to this evolving component of his work.

“OCTRI is privileged to support Dr. Nguyen-Huynh. He is an excellent example of the researchers that OCTRI is here to nurture,” said Eric Orwoll, M.D., OCTRI Director. “His work is highly inter-disciplinary in nature, and OCTRI provides him and others the tools, the training and the support infrastructure to fully exploit the bench to bedside model, and to do research conducted simultaneously in basic and patient environments."

A native of Vietnam, Dr. Nguyen-Huynh received his medical degree and graduate medical education at Harvard, followed by a fellowship in Otology and Neurotology at the Stanford University School of Medicine. He came to OHSU from Stanford in 2006, having identified OHSU as one of the few places that provided an opportunity to explore his research and clinical interests simultaneously.

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