Heller Laboratory
Stanford University

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About our Research

Our laboratory works on inner ear development and regeneration, as well as on the biology of sensory hair cells, the mechanosensitive cells of the inner ear.  We are located at Stanford University in the School of Medicine and affiliated with the Otolaryngology department.  We are proudly affiliated with the Stanford Initiative to Cure Hearing Loss and we thank all supporters of this endeavor.

We are interested how the inner ear develops from an early anlage called the otic placode. Our goal is to describe the otic lineage from an early placodal progenitor until it splits up in multiple cell types making up the sensory epithelia, innervating ganglia, and accessory structures.

In parallel, we apply knowledge we gained from guiding embryonic and induced pluripotent stem cells along the otic lineage to find ways for treatment of hearing loss. This involves identification of mechanisms of sensory hair cell regeneration in animals such as chickens that recover naturally from hearing loss, screening for potential regenerative targets that can be activated with drugs, and exploring reprograming as well as cell transplantation strategies.


The image shown above depicts the embryonic mouse inner ear stained with an antibody to a protein that is specifically expressed in the otic lineage.  Postdoctoral fellow Byron Hartman is working on this ongoing project and provided this spectacular image.

We are affiliated with the following graduate and fellowship programs: Biology, Developmental Biology, Genetics, Molecular & Cellular Physiology, Neurosciences, Bioengineering, and Stem Cell Biology & Regenerative Medicine. If you are interested in rotating with us, please stop by the lab/office any time!


Joining our Lab

We are actively looking for a bioinformatics postdoctoral fellow.  The successful candidate has a PhD in bioinformatics or computational biology.  Strong interest and creative ability in data presentation, computer animation, and enthusiasm for bioart/biocreativity is a requirement. We expect strong work ethics, vision, and ability to independently learn and implement new technologies.

If you are interested in joining our group, please send a single introductory paragraph and your CV to Stefan Heller at hellers@stanford.edu


Additional information for PhD students interested in joining us for Postdoctoral Research

Please contact me at least one year in advance of your desired start date.  Postdocs who have been doing well in my group bring exceptional motivation, clear communication skills, creativity, focus, and independence.  I encourage every single postdoc to apply for independent fellowships.  Stanford has strict rules on minimizing lengthy postdoctoral stints and discourages applications of candidates who already have more than 2 years experience.


Additional information for incoming graduate students

We currently welcome graduate students. If you are already at Stanford and interested in rotating with us, please email me.  If you are interested in the Stanford graduate programs, please read about the requirements at the Stanford Biosciences website.  We are affiliated with all home programs.  Please list me as a potential advisor when applying and please send me an email to introduce yourself.


Additional information for medical doctors interested in joining us for Postdoctoral Research

Please contact me at least one year in advance of your desired start date. Our research topics, historically, have been complex and require at least 2 years of dedicated focus. Postdocs on these short stints who have been doing well in the past were especially motivated, creative, and highly independent. You are expected to successfully apply for an independent full fellowship before you start in the lab. We rarely have funds to supplement fellowships.


Additional information for Stanford undergraduate students

We have opportunities for undergraduate research projects. I encourage undergraduates to explore the Amgen Scholars program, Bio-X, as well as the SURF program. Please email Dr. Heller if interested.


Additional information for high school students

We occasionally accept high school students for summer internships and encourage interested students to consult the Science Outreach programs website. We only accept students who successfully applied to one of the official Stanford programs such as SIMR.  If you are interested in such an internship, please contact Dr. Heller in early January.  Please note that most of the Stanford programs favor local high schools.


What we do?

We are focusing on three main questions.

More about us

How about Some Fun Facts about our laboratory?

Backpacking trips to the Utah desert
years since we began in Boston in 2000
Countries represented in the last 16 years in the lab
of group members came back from lab desert hiking trips

Plenty of open questions in inner ear biology: how hearing really happens? Can we cure hearing loss?

Who are we?

Heller Laboratory

April 2018

Current Laboratory Members:

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Stefan Heller

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Amanda Janesick

Post-Doctoral Researcher
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Ben Woodruff

CIRM Bridges Intern Student
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Byron Hartman

Research Associate
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Daniel Ellwanger

Post-Doctoral Researcher
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Giovanni Diaz

Graduate Student
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Marie Kubota

Post-Doctoral Researcher
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Mirko Scheibinger

Post-Doctoral Researcher
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Navid Zebarjadi

Life Science Technician
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Nesrine Benkafadar

Post-Doctoral Researcher
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Sabine Mann

Laboratory Manager
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Previous Labmembers

How about Some Fun Facts?

Sunny days annually, on average in Palo Alto
Success rate of our group for student and fellowship grant applications (25 of 33, since we started counting; arghh: the last three are killing this quota at the moment (down from 87%))
Research presentations done per lab member on average every year
important open questions in inner ear biology

Our laboratory is located in the Edwards Building  —  We will move in early 2020 to the new Biomedical Innovations Building

Work hard , Play hard

2017 Finally to the Golden Cathedral plus more

2016 Cedar Mesa – Grand Gulch and some more canyons

2015 Coyote Buttes North – The Wave and Glamping

2014 Coyote Gulch and more

2013 Memorial Day Weekend Lab trip

Buckskin Gulch 2012 – The Trailer

Buckskin Gulch 2011 – Mud, mud, and … mud



Here are some recent highlights

• Scheibinger, M., Ellwanger, D.C., Corrales, C.E., Stone, J.S., and Heller, S. Aminoglycoside damage and hair cell regeneration in the chicken utricle. J Assoc Res Otolaryngology, 19, 17-29. doi: 10.1007/s10162-017-0646-4 (2018). https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10162-017-0646-4

Congratulations to postdoc Mirko for his first first author paper in the Heller laboratory.  This work is the foundation of ongoing work that utilizes single cell transcriptomics to elucidate the mechanisms of hair cell regeneration in the chicken utricle.  It also is the first manuscript of the laboratory on chicken hair cell regeneration, which is currently evolving into a major research focus.  I am grateful to the Hearing Health Foundation and the Stanford Initiative to Cure Hearing Loss for funding this project.  


• Lee, J., Böscke, R., Tang, P.C., Hartman, B.H., Heller, S, and Koehler, K.R. Hair follicle development in mouse pluripotent stem cell-derived skin organoids. Cell Reports, 22242-254. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2017.12.007. (2018). Link to the paper in Cell Reports

When postdocs Robert Böscke and Byron Hartman showed me that their experiments using the inner ear organoid formation protocol published by Karl Koehler and Eri Hashino a few years ago was producing in relatively robust fashion what looked like mouse hair follicles, I first thought that they are joking.  Well, no joke, the protocol that has now been used by several laboratories to produce inner ear cell types can be tweaked and steered towards production of skin including hair follicles.  Is our lab now in the hair growing business?  Certainly not.  But our collaborators at Indiana University are very serious about pursuing this finding further.  Wouldn’t it be great if this can be translated to humans?  I am happy that we were able to contribute to this story.  What I found fascinating is that the fundamental findings were obtained independently in my laboratory and in Karl’s laboratory – what a great validation!  I am also thankful to all scientists involved in this study for their collaborative spirit.  Instead of competing, we decided to work together.  This saved resources, reduced anxiety, and resulted in my mind in a better story.


















Older publications

A list of all lab publications can be accessed via this link.


Are you ready?

Get in Touch

Lab hike 2012

Software Implementations

The Heller Lab Blog

April 2018

Another year went by.  Here are some highlights. Postdoc Mirko Scheibinger got the February cover of JARO with his paper describing the…

May 2017

A sign of life!  The silence was an indication that we have been busy.  I just wanted to post here that a longer…

June 2016

  2016 has been fairly good to us thus far.  Our new NIH grant received a competitive score, which is most important…

Happy New Year – January 2016

I wish everybody a successful, happy, and healthy new year.  It is the time for New Year’s Resolutions and probably the most…


Contact Us

300 Pasteur Drive, Edwards R123, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94315, United States

+650 721 1032