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 is an artistic view of E15 utricle hair bundles overlaid with CellTrails-inspired art. SEM credit goes to Rachel Dumont and Peter Barr-Gillespie (OHSU and the Vollum Institute). CellTrails maps and artistic rendering was done by Daniel Ellwanger.

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 currently looking for a Stanford Undergraduate Student who wants to join us for a 1-2 year ongoing part-time research project.  We are asking for a 6-10 hours per week commitment and offer the opportunity to do full time research during the summer months (2020, 2021). We expect strong work ethics, a certain level of independence, and strong interest in laboratory science.

If you are interested in joining our group, please send a single introductory paragraph and your CV to Dr. Marie Kubota and Dr. Stefan Heller:  kubomari[at]stanford.edu and hellers[at]stanford.edu


If you are interested in joining the lab, please find details and additional information here.


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

June 2019

Current Laboratory Members:

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Stefan Heller

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Amanda Janesick

Post-Doctoral Researcher
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Giovanni Diaz

Graduate Student
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John (Johnny) Butchko

Undergraduate Student, AG Bell STEMM-HEAR Summer Researcher
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Maggie Matern

Post-Doctoral Researcher
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Mallory Laboulaye

Graduate Student - Lab rotation
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Marie Kubota

Post-Doctoral Researcher
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Mirko Scheibinger

Post-Doctoral Researcher
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Nesrine Benkafadar

Post-Doctoral Researcher
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Sabine Mann

Laboratory Manager
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Taha Jan

Post-Doctoral Researcher, Clinical Fellow
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Tom Pritsky

Undergraduate Student
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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 (26 of 33, since we started counting
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

2018 Canyonlands National Park

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


• Zhu, Ying; Scheibinger, Mirko; Ellwanger, Daniel C.; Krey, Jocelyn F.; Choi, Dongseok; Kelly, Ryan T.; Heller, Stefan and Barr-Gillepie, Peter G.  Single-cell proteomics reveals changes in expression during hair-cell development.  eLIFE, 8:e50777 (2019) Link to the paper.

This continuation of our collaboration with the Barr-Gillespie laboratory is – to our knowledge – the first single cell proteomics study that uses bioinformatics trajectory analysis.  This work was made possible by a major technological advance contributed by Ryan Kelly’s laboratory at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory that allows all the steps for a proteomic workup of a single cell to be done in very small containers, so-called nanoPOTS.  This collaborative effort led to the identification of TMSB4X an actin monomer sequestering protein that dynamically changes expression precisely when hair bundle formation in developing hair cells is being triggered.  This, in turn, results in an increase of available G-actin for bundle assembly.  The maturing hair cell is able to perform such a logistic feat without massively changing expression of actin.  One could imagine an “unpacking” of already available parts that then become available for assembly of larger structures.

• Janesick, Amanda S. and Heller, Stefan. Stem Cells and the Bird Cochlea – Where is Everybody?  Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Medicine, doi: 10.1101/cshperspect.a033183 (2019); 9 (4). Link to the paper.

In this perspective, we describe different mechanisms of hair cell regeneration in the avian cochlea and argue that there is no doubt that cochlear hair cell regeneration in birds is driven by stem cells.  With all this evidence for stem cells, the question remains:  Where are they?  This short essay pretty much outlines the need for a thorough analysis of hair cell regeneration in the bird inner ear.


















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

• CellTrails (via this link)

• Heller lab simple guide to single cell analysis (coming soon)


• Addgene (via this link)

The Heller Lab Blog

September 2019

It does not seem to be difficult to write an update once in a while, but – well – it obviously is…

May 21

My goal for this year is to provide more frequent updates. Congratulations to Amanda for being selected as recipient of an A.P.…

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…


Contact Us

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

+650 721 1032