Lars Becker

I started my scientific career working on single channels on proteins from the mitochondrial membranes in Richard Wagner’s lab in Onsabruck (Germany). My main focus was on protein translocation into mitochondria, but all kinds of channels were electrocuted in my rig.

I came to Stanford being convinced to be the person to identify the elusive mechanotransduction channel in hair cells of the inner ear. Now, four years and several mouse models later, we still have not identified the transduction channel for certain, but at least I got little wiser regarding animal models, imaging techniques, electrophysiology, and hearing tests.

My current focus will combine the techniques I learned during my postdoc and from my graduate work, studying organelles, their influence in synaptic transmitter release, but also their influence in noise and drug induced hearing loss.

The hair cells of the inner ear are sensitive to mechanic and drug insults, and unfortunately do not regenerate after cell death. In contrast to the current scientific trend of replacing what has been broken, I believe protecting the hearing organ from breaking in the first place is the better alternative.
But first we have to understand why the hair cells die, how different insults result in death cascades, and what pathways are involved. A central player in both major cell death pathways, necrosis and apoptosis, is the mitochondrion. Overwhelming mitochondrial export mechanisms and losing ∆Ψ after calcium influx as well as the overproduction of reactive oxygen species lead to apoptosis and more generally the rupture the outer mitochondrial membrane together with the release of inter membrane space proteins into the cytosol are considered the point of no return in death signaling. Elucidating how noise and pharmacological insults lead into the death cascades, provide the necessary basis for interfering with the pathways and increasing hair cell chance of survival.

When I am not trying to rescue hair cells, I am helping injured and malnourished pinnipeds as a volunteer in the Marine Mammal Center. So, if you ever come to the lab on a Monday morning and the whole postdoc room smells of old herring, it is very likely a northern elephant seal (Mirounga angustirostris) pup did not really like the fish milkshake I prepared….

Lars Becker