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!

We are actively looking to hire a postdoctoral fellow or research associate with substantial experience in computational biology as well as knowledge of computer graphics and strategies for analysis of high dimensional data. The new team member needs to be exceptionally creative and motivated to apply his/her computational training toward solving biologically relevant questions.

Similarly, we are looking for a postdoctoral fellow to join our group in mid 2015 or later.  The successful candidate should have a strong interest in solving open questions how fate decisions in the developing and regenerating inner ear are being orchestrated. We expect strong work ethics, creativity, and ability to independently learn and implement new technologies.  A background in bioinformatics or interest in computational analysis methods of single cell transcriptome data is a requirement.

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

What we do?

We are focusing on three main questions.

More about us

How about Some Fun Facts about our laboratory?

Lab trips to the Utah desert
years since we begun in Boston in 2000
Countries represented in the last 14 years in the lab
of group members came back from lab desert hiking trips

Hair cell-like cells generated in vitro
from mouse iPS cells

Who are we?

Heller Laboratory

March 2014


member photo

Stefan Heller

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Andres Plata Stapper

Post-Doctoral Researcher
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Byron Hartman

Post-Doctoral Researcher
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Eun Jin Son

Post-Doctoral Researcher/Visiting Professor
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Giovanni Diaz

Graduate Student
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Jörg Waldhaus

Post-Doctoral Researcher
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Megan Ealy

Post-Doctoral Researcher
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Meike Herget

Post-Doctoral Researcher
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Melodyanne Cheng

Undergraduate Student
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Mirko Scheibinger

Post-Doctoral Researcher
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Robert Böscke

Post-Doctoral Researcher
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Robert Durruthy-Durruthy

Post-Doctoral Researcher
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Steven Losorelli

Biology Student
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Sabine Mann

Laboratory Manager
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Sabrina Ahmad

Postdoctoral Program Administrator
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Chelsey Perry

Grants Administrator
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Previous Labmembers

How about Some Fun Facts about our laboratory?

Sunny days annually, on average in Palo Alto
Success rate of our group for student and fellowship grant applications (18 of 21)
Six packs usually consumed during lab meeting
qRT-PCR reactions done in the lab per week on average (last 12 months)

Our laboratory is located in the Edwards Building and stretches
from the first to the second floor

Work hard , Play hard

2014 Coyote Gulch and more

2013 Memorial Day Weekend Lab trip

Buckskin Gulch 2012 – The Trailer

Buckskin Gulch 2011 – Mud, mud, and … mud

This section of the website is still under construction. Please stay tuned!



Here are some recent highlights

• Durruthy-Durruthy, R., Gottlieb, A., Hartman, B.H., Waldhaus, J., Laske, R.D., Altman, R. & Heller, S. Reconstruction of the Mouse Otocyst and Early Neuroblast Lineage at Single Cell Resolution. Cell (2014). http://http://www.cell.com/cell/abstract/S0092-8674(14)00411-5
We started this project about 1½ years ago and as outlined in the blog post of Apr 24, this paper marks a new focus and direction of research in our laboratory. This focus builds on single cell analysis technology to address important questions in development and regeneration. The history of this manuscript is short (thank god!): The manuscript went directly to Cell in early Dec 2013 and we received the reviews in early Feb 2014. Generally, one would not be happy when it takes 8 weeks to review a manuscript, but there were the holidays and we knew that we had submitted a very long manuscript with plenty of supplementary information, so it was understandable that it took a while. We were happy when we received the reviews: the editor and reviewers really liked the story and we had only to address a few minor critiques plus the task of shorting the text by about 25% so that it fits with the space requirements of the journal. We would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for being excited and supportive of this work. For the laboratory, this paper is surely something special.

• Ronaghi, M., Nasr, M., Ealy, M., Durruthy-Durruthy, R., Waldhaus, J., Diaz, G.H., Joubert, L.M., Oshima, K. & Heller, S. Inner Ear Hair Cell-Like Cells from Human Embryonic Stem Cells. Stem cells and development (2014). http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24512547
In this first publication of 2014, we show that it is generally possible to guide human embryonic stem cells toward the inner ear lineage and to generate otic progenitor cells that can differentiate into hair cell-like cells. We also uncovered many limitations of the technology that need to be addressed in future research. Overall, this paper is the product of many years of hard research; quite a difficult project, when compared to other fields such as generation of neurons or muscle cells. History of the paper and review process: We started with submitting the manuscript to PNAS and Stem Cells. Both journals did not review the manuscript, perhaps because we were very clear that the technology has certain limitations. Rewriting parts of the Abstract and Discussion as well as pointing out to the editor of Stem Cells & Development that this paper is the first one to describe the generation of human inner ear sensory hair cells from embryonic stem cells helped. Two reviewers were very positive and the manuscript was accepted after minor revisions.















Older publications

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


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Get in Touch

Lab hike 2012

The Heller Lab Blog

November update

November 2014, a sunny day in Palo Alto and I finally find some time to update our lab blog.  A nasty cold…

July update

Half way through the year and it is time for an update. Research is tagging along nicely and several projects are now…

April update

It is incredible how quickly time passes, ⅓ of 2014 is already gone by. The month of April was important at many…

A detailed analysis of the early embryonic inner ear

For our laboratory, it is always a special moment when we publish a paper in a high-ranking journal. Today is one of…


Contact Us

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

+650 721 1032