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Dr Niliksha Gunewardene, Senior Research Fellow

Dr Niliksha (Niki) Gunewardene is a Senior Research Fellow at the Bionics Institute, and Medical Bionics Department, University of Melbourne. She has expertise in stem cells, molecular biology, and auditory neuroscience.

Dr Gunewardene completed her PhD at the Department of Otolaryngology, University of Melbourne and Post-doctoral Fellowship at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and Harvard University.

Niki’s research has two overall aims, (1) to improve patients’ experience with a cochlear implant and (2) to regenerate the sensory cells of the inner ear responsible for causing hearing loss.

The cochlear implant is the only available therapy for hearing loss. Despite its success, patients experience variable outcomes particularly in their capacity to comprehend speech and appreciate music. Niki is interested in developing strategies to improve patients experience with a cochlear implant by improving their residual hearing and investigating the potential of optical cochlear implants.

The sensory cells in the inner ear are highly susceptible to damage from noise, ageing or certain antibiotics. Loss of the hair cells or neurons in the inner ear is irreversible and causes deafness. Niki is focused on studying the molecular mechanism of hearing loss and developing novel cell, gene, or drug-based therapies to regenerate or replace the lost sensory cells of the inner ear.

Drug delivery to the inner ear is a major impediment to clinical translation of hearing loss therapies. Niki’s research is also dedicated to exploring methods to deliver therapeutics to the inner ear in a safe and effective manner. She is currently working on testing the pharmacokinetics and biodistribution of a drug delivered into the inner ear using nanoparticles.

Dr Gunewardene has authored 12 peer-reviewed scientific papers, 1 book chapter, 1 US patent and numerous conference presentations, including 9 as invited speaker. She is an investigator on an Australian NHMRC Development grant and lead post-doctoral fellow on a grant funded by the US Department of Defense. She works closely with industry on contract research projects, particularly US based hearing research pharmaceutical companies. Niki collaborates with research leaders and clinicians from Harvard University, University of Washington, University of Melbourne, and Swinburne University.

Selected publications

1. Gunewardene N, Lam P, Ma Y, et al. Pharmacokinetics and biodistribution of supraparticle-delivered neurotrophin 3 in the guinea pig cochlea. Journal of Controlled Release. 2022;342:295-307.

2. Richardson RT, Thompson AC, Wise AK, et al. Viral-mediated transduction of auditory neurons with opsins for optical and hybrid activation. Sci Rep. 2021 May 27;11(1):11229.

3. Richardson RT, Gunewardene N. Gene Therapy Approaches for Cochlear Repair. Reference Module in Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Psychology. Vol. 22020. p. 962-984.

4. Thompson AC, Wise AK, Hart WL, et al. Hybrid optogenetic and electrical stimulation for greater spatial resolution and temporal fidelity of cochlear activation. J Neural Eng. 2020 Nov 4;17(5):056046.

5. Lenz DR, Gunewardene N, Abdul-Aziz DE, et al. Applications of Lgr5-Positive Cochlear Progenitors (LCPs) to the Study of Hair Cell Differentiation. Front Cell Dev Biol. 2019;7:14.

6. Gunewardene N, Dottori, M., Needham, K., Nayagam, B. . Using iPS cells to replace spiral ganglion neurons after deafness. 3rd Annual meeting of the Australian Neuroscience Society; Melbourne, Australia2013. p. 72.

7. Gunewardene N, Guo, X. C., Wong, Y. C. A., Thorne, R. P., Vlajkovic, M. S. Adenosine Amine Congener Ameliorates Cisplatin-Induced Hearing Loss. World Journal of Otorhinolaryngology. 2013.

8. Gunewardene N, Dottori M, Nayagam BA. The convergence of cochlear implantation with induced pluripotent stem cell therapy [Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov’t]. Stem Cell Rev. 2012 Sep;8(3):741-54.

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