Department of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery

Biophysics Laboratory


About the Laboratory

Media Component
Brenda Farrell, Ph.D.
Brenda Farrell, Ph.D.

We study two motor mechanisms within living cells associated with the plasma membrane, one that impacts the mobility of cancer cells, and one that affects mammalian hearing. 

Loss of hearing is a significant non-fatal worldwide disability. Globally, it is ranked as the fourth most common ailment with an incidence of 1.37 billion.  In comparison, cancer can be fatal and has an incidence globally of about 0.091 billion with about 8.8 million deaths per year.

Our laboratory participates in the evolving infrastructure for data curation and archiving by promoting good data stewardship and data sharing, including use of ontologies to curate data and deposition of datasets in vetted repositories. This facilitates re-use of our publicly funded data collections.


Research Areas

  • Mobility of cancer cells at nanoscale
  • Inner ear knowledge containers
  • Voltage sensing mechanism of the outer hair cell lateral membrane
  • In silico models of this voltage sensor and in silico voltage clamp
  • Micro- and nanomechanical properties of the outer hair cell lateral membrane

Key Research Questions

  • What is the energy landscape of the reaction that requires SLC265a, the protein prestin?
  • Does the timing of the prestin intermolecular reaction affect amplification of sound or are events that occur in the cochlear partition limiting?
  • What is the molecular identity and stoichiometry of the components (lipids, proteins and glycocalyx) of the lateral membrane where this reaction occurs?
  • Do outer hair cells amplify sound?
  • How can we successfully transition from bench-based experimentation to molecular-based simulations to study this and other processes in the inner ear?
  • What tools and processes do we need to develop to ensure that all experimental and simulated data is curated, archived and made available for further scholarship?

Examples of Current Research

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