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Student Involved in Discovery of Meniere’s Disease Protein

High School Senior Researches Meniere's Disease

By Robyn Flans, Ventura County Star, 10/28/11

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At 17 years old, Thousand Oaks High School senior Samir Malhotra may have helped discover the cause for the debilitating inner-ear disorder called Meniere's disease.

Meniere's disease is a disorder that results in severe hearing loss, permanent ringing sounds, loss of balance and more.

For the past two summers, Malhotra has worked at the UCLA Department of Head and Neck Surgery on original research projects.

"I contacted a professor and asked if I could work in his lab," Malhotra said. "I told him what I wanted to do and we set up a meeting. He asked me what I had done before and what I know, and he was kind of impressed."

No wonder. Malhotra grew up in lab. Born in Vancouver, B.C., he recalls constantly accompanying his mother to labs while she was earning her doctorate in cell and molecular biology/physiology at the University of British Columbia in Canada.

"I would always talk to the professors and ask her about all the complicated machines and what she was doing. I was always fascinated with science, especially biology because it's about our life and everything that's around us and it really applies to us," Malhotra said.

The genesis of his research idea came about during his anatomy class at school. For his peer group project, he had to come up with a presentation for the ear chapter.

"I started studying Meniere's disease and found it was interesting that the cause was unknown, but it affected so many people," Malhotra said. "I did a little bit more research because I'm a very curious person and found that not much research had been done on it and there are very few labs in the world that deal with it. I needed it for my science fair project, too, so I came up with a proposal asking what the role might be of aquaporins, which are proteins, in the inner ear. Then I contacted the professor at UCLA who helped me come up with the project."

Samir Malhorta, a senior at Thousand Oaks High School, is about to make the books with his research on Meniere's disease. Malhorta has spend the past two summers at the UCLA Department of Head and Neck Surgery focused on the ailment that afflicts a known 600,000 people in the U.S. and millions worldwide with a chronic ringing in the ear and eventual deafness.

Ivan Axel López, adjunct professor of surgery, division of head and neck, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, said: "As a faculty member and the director of the molecular inner ear laboratory in the Department of Head and Neck Surgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, I have had adequate opportunities to evaluate Samir's scientific capabilities as a future physician and researcher. Although he is preparing his applications for college, Samir has made research a priority and is always committed to his projects in my laboratory."

López described Malhotra's dedication as remarkable.

"His project was related to propose a model of how water movement is regulated in the human inner ear, and how a disbalance in water transport affects inner ear function," López said. "He writes excellent abstracts and significantly contributes to the elaboration of research reports. In addition, he is a co-author of a manuscript recently submitted to the Otolaryngology and Head and Neck Journal. This manuscript is the first one to report the presence of cochlin (a protein unique to the inner ear) in vestibular endorgans obtained at surgery from patients diagnosed with a debilitating hearing disorder called Meniere's disease."

Malhotra said: "If we can find a way to fix these proteins that are malfunctioning or possibly open the passages, then we can get rid of this disease or at least lessen the severity of it. Meniere's can definitely be crippling. It is difficult to function in society."