Research and Clinical Trials

Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery Research and Clinical Trials

The specialists at Vanderbilt Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery are worldwide leaders in research. As pioneers in the otolaryngology field, our discoveries are making a significant impact on science, as well as changing surgical and treatment options available to patients.

Vanderbilt Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery typically ranks between third and fifth* in the nation for NIH grant funding. Our programs focus on academics, science, and patient care that translates into top-tier research and clinical trial options for our patients.

Vanderbilt University serves as a national coordinating center of the Clinical Translational Science Award (CTSA) program. Vanderbilt is also proud to offer our faculty and researchers access to the Vanderbilt Institute for Clinical and Translational Research (VICTR), that provides resources, education, and training to researchers at Vanderbilt University, Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Meharry Medical College.

*As reported by Blue Ridge Institute for Medical Research, an independent organization that assesses how much funding is awarded to a particular institution and individual research.

Otolaryngology Clinical Trials

Vanderbilt Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery is at the forefront of medical research, pushing the limits of science to bring new treatment options to patients through clinical trials. We participate in both NIH-funded clinical trials and industry-funded clinical trials. Notably, two Vanderbilt Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery faculty members hold Investigational Device Exemptions (IDE) from the FDA – a distinguished honor in academia – to run preliminary clinical trials on devices to determine safety and effectiveness.

Research Labs and Programs

  • Computer-Assisted Otologic Surgery (CAOS)
    CAOS is a multidisciplinary lab that has pioneered image-guided otologic surgery and bilateral cochlear implantation clinical trials. CAOS faculty members include Ramya Balachandran, PhD; Benoit Dawant, PhD; Robert Labadie, MD, PhD; Michael Fitzpatrick, MD, PhD (Emeritus). The CAOS Lab also has an outstanding staff to help all aspects of research, including administrative support, nursing research, research coordination, research fellows, graduate students, and residents.
  • Vanderbilt Institute for Surgery and Engineering (VISE)
    VISE has a robust faculty of researchers and is a partnership of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Vanderbilt University School of Engineering, and the Medical Innovators Development Program (MIDP). Areas of research include big data, bioinstrumentation, biomedical imaging, biophotonics, image processing, image-guided surgery, imaging, modeling, robotics, surgical robots, and surgery, and engineering.
    • Alexander Langerman, MD, SM directs the Surgical Analytics Lab at VISE. This lab studies methods for real time surgical data acquisition and analysis. The current focus is on development of a wearable surgical camera and techniques for automated annotation of open surgical videos.
  • Vanderbilt Music Cognition Lab Co-directors: Renya Gordon, PhD and Miriam Lense, PhD 
    The Vanderbilt Music Cognition Lab focuses on the relationship between music, language, and social development. The lab is co-directed by Miriam Lense, PhD, and Renya Gordon, PhD. Dr. Gordon recently received a $2.3 million NIH Director's New Innovator Award. Lab members include faculty, staff, postdoctoral fellows, PhD students, pre-med and medical students, Vanderbilt Hearing and Speech, Vanderbilt Psychology and Neuroscience, collaborators, and lab interns.
  • Young Kim, MD, PhD Lab, endowed by Amy and Barry Baker
    Dr. Kim's lab focuses on cancer immunology and immunotherapy. For the past decade, his research team has studied the tumor microenvironment (TME).
  • David Zealear, PhD
    The Neurolaryngology Lab is performing animal studies to uncover the basic neurophysiological mechanisms underlying neural control of laryngeal muscles and the neuromodulation of their reinnervation following nerve injury. These latter studies have shown that low frequency electrical conditioning of denervated canine muscles can promote selective reinnervation by original native motoneurons and avoid faulty reinnervation and subsequent synkinetic paralysis. Clinical trials using this approach for patients with laryngeal and facial paralysis (i.e. Bell's Palsy) are planned to prevent the aberrant reinnervation and synkinesis, essentially curing the paralysis. Dr. Zealear is the Principal Investigator of an NIH-funded clinical trial to reanimate the larynx with functional electrical stimulation in patients with long-term synkinetic bilateral vocal fold paralysis. Co-investigators include: Maria Powell, PhD; Yike Li, MD, PhD; Shan Huang, MD; James Netterville, MD; Gaelyn Garett, MD; Kate VonWahlde, MJ, CCRP; and Maryam Seirafi-Pour, MA.
  • Justin Turner, MD, PhD  
    The Vanderbilt Sinonasal Diseases Research Lab performs basic and translational research into chronic inflammatory airway diseases such as chronic rhinosinusitis, allergic rhinitis, and asthma, and investigates basic mechanisms of olfactory loss in humans. The lab is directed by Justin Turner, MD, PhD, who has recently been awarded more than $4 million in NIH funding. Members of the lab include faculty members in rhinology and endoscopic skull base surgery, residents, medical and undergraduate students, and clinical research coordinators.
  • Alex Gelbard, MD
    Dr. Gelbard's Mechanisms of Proximal Airway Fibrosis Lab research team studies obstructive fibrotic diseases in the larynx and trachea (collectively termed laryngotracheal stenosis, i.e. LTS). LTS can occur without known antecedent injury (idiopathic subglottic stenosis: iSGS), it also can accompany collagen vascular disease (e.g. Granulomatosis with polyangitis: GPA) or follow iatrogenic injury (e.g., post-intubation stenosis). Dr. Gelbard's team employs a unique combination of genetic, molecular, and epidemiologic based approaches to investigate the critical factors underlying the pathogenesis and treatment of LTS. An active, multi-institutional clinical trial group led by Dr. Gelbard, the North American Airway Collaborative, complements basic research efforts by facilitating translation of scientific insights into clinical therapies.
  • David Kent, MD
    Dr. Kent is evaluating the effects of ansa cervicalis neurostimulation on the upper airway in obstructive sleep apnea with grant-funder support from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine Foundation.
  • Aron Parekh, PhD
    Dr. Parekh’s lab focuses on the mechanobiology of head and neck cancer invasion and wound healing in the dermis and oral cavity. Our goal is to understand how mechanical forces in the tumor microenvironment and wound bed promote cellular phenotypes that drive tumor progression and scarring, respectively. We utilize interdisciplinary approaches that include in vitro and in vivo models, computational and sequencing methods as well as cell and molecular biology techniques with an emphasis on quantitative microscopy.
  • Maria Powell, PhD, CCC-SLP
    Dr. Powell leads a multidisciplinary team of laryngologists, speech pathologists, and computer scientists with the long term goal of improving clinical assessments for patients with voice disorders. Current research projects include developing deep learning models to aid in the detection, diagnosis, and monitoring of laryngeal movement disorders, including spasmodic dysphonia and essential tremor of voice. Dr. Powell also serves as the research speech pathologist overseeing clinical data collection for David Zealear’s laryngeal pacing clinical trial.
  • Yike Li, MD, PhD
    Dr. Li's research interests include neurolaryngology, voice disorder, hearing loss and artificial intelligence. He is currently working on Dr. Zealear's laryngeal pacing clinical trial. He is also exploring a similar approach in the management of facial paralysis in animal models. In addition, he is conducting independent research on the use of artificial intelligence in the detection ad diagnosis of head and neck diseases, including voice disorders, otitis media, and head and neck cancers.
  • Shan Huang, MD
    Dr. Huang’s research concerns the design and manufacture of novel implantable devices for stimulation of nerves and recording EMG potentials from muscles in Dr. Zealear’s research program.  His current project focuses on chronological recording from canine laryngeal muscles to investigate the effect of electrical conditioning on the reinnervation specificity of these muscles following nerve injury.


At Vanderbilt Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery, our faculty is committed to developing cutting-edge research that can be translated from the lab to directly improving patient's lives. We are challenged to discover new technologies and medications to help improve both patient-perceived (PROMs) and physician-analyzed outcomes for patients and to make an impact on available treatment options.