M. Charles Liberman, PhD, the Harold F. Schuknecht Professor of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery (OHNS) at Harvard Medical School (HMS), has recently announced his decision to step down from his leadership positions as director of the Eaton-Peabody Laboratories (EPL) and as vice chair for Basic Research in OHNS at Mass Eye and Ear.
As a world-renowned leader in inner-ear research, Dr. Liberman has led the EPL, the world’s largest and most productive private research enterprise focused on hearing and deafness, since 1996, and has served as vice chair for Basic Research since 2011.
The EPL is preparing to undergo a major renovation to its central facilities, much of which remains as it was built in 1972. The renovations will be funded in large part by a generous gift from the Amelia Peabody Charitable Fund, champions of the EPL since it was founded in 1958 through a partnership between Miss Amelia Peabody and Nelson Kiang, PhD, who was the EPL’s founding director and Dr. Liberman’s research mentor. Renovations to the EPL will include additional lab space for expanded research capabilities and reconfigured space for cross-discipline research collaborations.
“I’ve been planning the transition to a new director for several years,” Dr. Liberman said. “A major factor in my decision to make the change now is that the design for the new EPL research space should be led by the next generation of leadership.”
Dr. Liberman will vacate both roles on February 1, but will remain a full-time investigator in the EPL, as well as a full-time HMS faculty member. There will be a nationwide search for a permanent replacement. Meanwhile, Daniel B. Polley, PhD, the Amelia Peabody Chair of OHNS at Mass Eye and Ear and a Professor of OHNS at HMS, will serve as interim director.
For the past five decades, Dr. Liberman has led cutting-edge research on the pathology of the inner ear and the normal mechanisms of sound processing in the auditory nerve. He earned his PhD from Harvard University in 1976 before joining Mass Eye and Ear as a research associate. In 1996, Dr. Liberman was appointed director of the EPL, which has undergone immense growth under his leadership. Since his appointment, 12 new HMS faculty have joined the laboratories. Additionally, four researchers from the EPL have been awarded endowed Harvard professorships, five researchers have been appointed endowed Mass Eye and Ear chairs and the EPL’s endowment has grown to $12 million.
Over the span of his research career, Dr. Liberman has authored over 200 peer-reviewed articles. In 2009, Dr. Liberman and Sharon Kujawa, PhD, the Sheldon and Dorothea Buckler Chair in OHNS at Mass Eye and Ear and a principal investigator in the EPL, uncovered a new type of inner-ear damage called cochlear synaptopathy, also known as “hidden hearing loss.” Their landmark discovery, which has changed the way the scientific community understands hearing loss, showed that there could be permanent damage to auditory-nerve fibers from loud noises or age, long before there is damage to the sensory cells.
Future research led by Dr. Liberman will be split between a collaborative P50 grant on hidden hearing loss and an individual NIH R01 grant on the mechanisms and potential treatments of noise-induced hearing loss in animal models.
“Dr. Liberman has helped transform the Eaton-Peabody Laboratories into the preeminent center for hearing loss and deafness research,” said Mark A. Varvares, MD, FACS, Chief of the Department of OHNS at Mass Eye and Ear. “While he has already left an invaluable impact on the EPL, his true impact will be measured by the breakthroughs that emerge from the EPL years from now and that will lay the foundation for the next wave of diagnostic tools and therapies.”