Spring 2022 Newsletter

Dear Colleagues and Friends,

With spring in bloom, I am delighted to report that Stanford Otolaryngology — Head & Neck Surgery continues to excel in all aspects of our tripartite mission.  Research wise, we are honored and grateful that our department is a top department in the country for NIH awards in 2021, ranking #4 based on the awards received in FY21 (NIH ExPORTER) and #6 based on the NIH’s FY21 budget (Blue Ridge Institute for Medical Research). We highlight below new grants awarded to our investigators this year [LINK]. In the clinical realm, we spotlight our surgeons’ leadership in radiofrequency ablation for the treatment of thyroid nodules. Regarding education, we proudly welcome our fabulous incoming residents. We are also most thankful for the new R25 training grant that will allow us to continue to train physician-scientists pursuing work aligned with the mission of the National Institute for Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

Lastly, I am heartened by the fact that our department is playing a proactive role in alleviating the suffering in Ukraine. Specifically, our resident Dr. Noel Ayoub and his physician brother have set up a website called Heal Remote, which is a free teleservice platform connecting healthcare providers to communities affected by acute crises. I encourage you to volunteer for this noble cause.

I look forward to catching up in person with many of you at COSM.

Thank you!

Konstantina Stankovic, MD, PhD
Bertarelli Foundation Professor of Otolaryngology — Head & Neck Surgery and, by courtesy, of Neurosurgery

Stanford OHNS is pioneering new treatments: radiofrequency ablation

Until recently, patients with large thyroid nodules had two choices: undergo surgery, or live with it. Under the direction of Dr. Lisa Orloff and Dr. Julia Noel, Stanford Otolaryngology — Head & Neck Surgery has introduced a third option, called radiofrequency ablation, or RFA. RFA is an innovative and minimally invasive approach to treat primarily benign thyroid nodules. One treatment can result in a reduction in volume between 50 and 90%, alleviating the associated compressive symptoms and significantly improving cosmetic appearance – all without a surgical scar! Perhaps most importantly, the targeted nature of RFA preserves the normal thyroid parenchyma and function, ensuring that nearly all patients with healthy underlying thyroids can avoid long term thyroid hormone supplementation.

Welcome to Our Newly Announced 2022 Residency Matches

Shayna Cooperman, MD

Medical School: Stanford University
Undergraduate: University of Southern California 
Hobbies: “My favorite hobbies are writing, dancing and videography. Although I once wrote an unpublished murder mystery novel, I have shifted to blogging. On my blog, I share educational and humorous insights to life as a deaf individual. I grew up performing in tap, ballet, jazz, and hip hop. In college, I added ballroom (particularly salsa) to my repertoire. Lastly, I love filming and editing videos. I was hired to film two weddings thus far, but I also love to film family vacations and important events.”

Maxwell Lee, MD, MS

Medical School: Case Western Reserve University 
Undergraduate: Johns Hopkins University 
Hobbies: “Ice hockey: I play in a local adult hockey league and am a huge fan of the Ottawa Senators; Other sports: I enjoy resort and backcountry skiing (my favorite resort is Arapahoe Basin). I play in a local soccer league, a recreational badminton club, and like to play pickup basketball with friends; Cooking: I enjoy cooking and have been learning recipes from my parents and grandparents (mostly Chinese cooking). I am currently working on perfecting a recipe for steamed buns.”

Lacey Nelson, MD, MS

Medical School: Georgetown University 
Undergraduate: UCLA 
Hobbies: “Gymnastics (former competitive athlete and coach), camping and hiking, baking (patisserie, miniature desserts, crepes), and live music.”

Anthony Thai, MD

Medical School: Stanford 
Undergraduate: Harvard College 
Hobbies: “Racket sports (tennis, badminton), hiking, and cooking.”

Elish Mahajan, MD


Medical School: Duke University 
Undergraduate: Duke University 
Hobbies: “Biking - road biking, trail biking, restoring vintage bikes; Acoustic guitar - quarantine hobby; Outdoors - golf, tennis, skiing, scuba diving (even in NC!); Music - concerts & live music, HiFi audio (headphones, IEMs, dacs, amps); Tech - tech news, smart home, podcasts (e.g. Reply All, Radiolab); Attempts at the NYTimes crossword; Duke Basketball die hard, fantasy football (2019 Duke Med champ).”

Teresa Nicolson, PhD Named New Edward C. and Amy H. Sewall Professor

After receiving her BS in Biochemistry at Western Washington University, Dr. Teresa Nicolson was a graduate student in Dr. William Wickner's laboratory and received her Ph.D. in Biological Chemistry in 1995 from the University of California, Los Angeles. She then trained as a post-doctoral fellow in Dr. Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard's laboratory at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, Germany. In 1999, Teresa became an independent Group Leader at the same institute. During this time in Germany, she spearheaded the use of zebrafish as an animal model for human hearing loss. In 2003, she was appointed as an assistant professor to the Oregon Hearing Research Center (OHRC) at OHSU with a joint appointment in the Vollum Institute. She was promoted to associate professor in 2005 and professor in 2014. Teresa was an HHMI Investigator from 2005 to 2013. In 2019 she then joined the Research Division of Otolaryngology — Head & Neck Surgery as a professor at Stanford University.

During her tenures at the Max Planck Institute and OHSU, Dr. Nicolson's lab participated in forward genetic screens that were unprecedented in scale and collected a large group of zebrafish mutants that specifically affect hearing and balance (auditory and vestibular) function in larvae. Characterization of these mutants has increased the understanding of two fundamental processes sensory hair cells at the molecular level: (i) mechanotransduction, which is the conversion of mechanical energy into an electrical signal, and (ii) synaptic transmission, which relies on a special type of synapse only found in sensory cells. An outstanding example of her work includes the identification of the very first molecular component of the mechanotransduction complex in hair cells — Cadherin 23, which is associated with Usher syndrome, a hereditary form of deaf-blindness in humans. More recent studies in Dr. Nicolson’s lab revealed an interaction between the tip link protein, Protocadherin 15, and subunits of the mechanotransduction channel, Transmembrane channel like 1 and 2 (Tmc1 and Tmc 2). Other findings include an unexpected role for two deafness genes, tomt (DFNB63) and tmie (DFNB6), in promoting the trafficking and localization of the Tmc subunits to the site of mechanotransduction in hair cells. 

Currently Dr. Nicolson’s lab is continuing with the forward genetic approach by characterizing a new class of zebrafish mutants that have neural defects in auditory and vestibular processing. Neural deficits in the auditory and vestibular system afflict a number of neurological patients, yet our understanding of the molecular basis of dysfunction is quite limited. Thus, these studies will yield new insights into the biology underlying neural function in the auditory/vestibular system. To facilitate the study of the function of deafness genes, Dr. Nicolson’s lab has greatly expanded the repertoire of innovative physiological and behavioral assays that can be used to investigate the phenotype of zebrafish auditory/vestibular mutants at multiple levels, including behavioral, physiological, cellular and molecular level analyses. In addition, her lab greatly benefits from the highly collaborative environment of the Stanford OHNS research division, extending her research to include single cell transcriptional profiling (Heller lab), comparative studies (Cheng lab) and new physiological approaches (Ricci lab).

Karthik Balakrishnan, MD Appointed Susan B. Ford Surgeon-in-Chief at the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital

Dr. Karthik Balakrishnan is a pediatric otolaryngologist specializing in surgical treatment of complex airway, breathing, swallowing, and voice disorders, vascular anomalies, and anatomic speech disorders. He believes strongly in the importance of constantly improving the quality and value of care through teamwork, psychological safety, workforce inclusion, and health equity. Among other institutional leadership roles, he has served as Medical Director of Surgical Performance Improvement and NSQIP-Pediatric Surgeon Champion since his arrival at Stanford Children's Health in early 2020.

In those capacities, Dr. Balakrishnan has played a key role in multiple major improvement projects, most notably driving Lucile Packard Children's Hospital's recognition as an American College of Surgeons Level 1 Children's Surgery Center. This effort was led by Dr. James Dunn, the previous surgeon-in-chief, and Pamela Orlandi, Children's Surgery Program Manager.  Several other members of our department faculty (Alan Cheng, Kara Meister, Douglas Sidell, and Tulio Valdez) also made essential contributions.

In his new role as the Susan B. Ford Surgeon-in-Chief at the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital (LPCH), Dr. Balakrishnan will work with physicians and staff to promote the quality and efficiency of pediatric surgical care while overseeing all surgical programs at LPCH. He will also direct surgical research projects in all disciplines to promote innovation.  

Tulio Valdez, MD Appointed Representative on the State of California Board of Speech-Language Pathology & Audiology & Hearing Aid Dispensers

Dr. Tulio Valdez joined the California Speech-Language Pathology & Audiology & Hearing Aid Dispensers Board following appointment by governor Newsom in December of 2021. The Board's role is to protect the people of California by promoting standards and enforcing the laws and regulations that ensure the qualifications and competence of providers of speech-language pathology, audiology, and hearing aid dispensing services.

Dr. Valdez attended medical school at Universidad Javeriana in Bogota, Colombia, before coming to the United States for his residency in Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery at Tufts University, Boston. He completed his Pediatric Otolaryngology Fellowship at Texas Children’s Hospital (2007), Houston, and obtained his Master’s in Clinical and Translational Research at the University of Connecticut. Clinically, Dr. Valdez has an interest in sleep apnea and nasal conditions. He has co-authored one textbook, numerous book chapters, and scientific manuscripts. Scientifically, Dr. Valdez has developed various imaging methods to diagnose otitis media and cholesteatoma, a middle-ear condition that can lead to hearing loss.

Santa Maria, MD, PhD is Awarded NIH R01 Funding to Investigate Hearing Loss

The NIDCD has awarded the Santa Maria Lab an R01 grant to explore why patients with chronic suppurative otitis media (CSOM) lose sensory hearing. CSOM affects more than 300 million worldwide and is the most common cause of permanent hearing loss in children of the developing world.  This work builds on their novel animal model where they have been able to mimic the human disease by showing that low metabolic bacteria, persister cells, are responsible for the disease and its recalcitrance to antibiotic therapy. In this model, they found a likely immunological mechanism associated with the sensory hearing loss that occurs. Through the grant, the lab hopes to understand the link between the infection in the ear and permanent hearing loss in the hopes of discovering a therapeutic target for preventing or treating chronic infectious related hearing loss.

Stefan Heller, PhD Receives New R01 Award from NIH

Dr. Heller received a new RO1 award from NIH to allow full validation of the lab’s exciting discoveries on how chickens naturally regenerate auditory hair cells. In turn, the lab plans to apply what they learned from birds to the mammalian cochlea. The overarching goal is to develop novel treatments for patients suffering from hearing loss. Dr. Heller is grateful for the philanthropic support that allowed the preliminary data to be collected that ensured this grant would be funded.

Alan Cheng, MD and Anthony Ricci, PhD are Principal Investigator and Co-investigator on a New R25 Grant from NIH

The R25 grant from NIH supports the Stanford Clinician Scientist Training Program. The program’s mission is to train medical students and residents to become future physician-scientists pursuing work aligned with the NIDCD missions. The structure of our 7-year residency track remains the same as in our previous T32 training grant, with trainees recruited through the match.

Jon-Paul Pepper, MD Receives Competitive Grants from Stanford Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute and from SPARK

Dr. Pepper received competitive grants from Stanford Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute and SPARK Translational Research Program to study new therapeutics to enhance motor nerve regeneration after injury and repair.

Iram Ahmad, MD, MME Receives a Competitive Grant from Stanford Maternal & Child Health Research Institute

Dr. Ahmad received a competitive grant from Stanford Maternal & Child Health Research Institute to study radiographic changes in the auditory pathway of children with hearing loss.

Jennifer Alyono, MD is a Principal Investigator on a Clinical Trial

Dr. Alyono received funding from Astellas Pharma Global Development, Inc. to test, in a phase I/II prospective randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial, a new topical compound to repair chronic tympanic membrane perforations without the need for surgery.

Robert Jackler, MD Receives a Grant from American Heart Association

Dr. Jackler received a grant from the American Heart Association to study the role adverting has played in growth of the menthol tobacco market: how the industry uses its menthol brands to target African Americans, youth, and women.

Uchechukwu Megwalu, MD, MPH Receives a New Grant from State of California

Dr. Megwalu received a California Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program Research Award to study racial disparities in head and neck cancer.

Dr. Megwalu leads the Comprehensive Otolaryngology Outcomes Research Group, an interdisciplinary research group that conducts outcomes/health services research related to otolaryngology – head and neck surgery . COOR Group conducts research that directly impacts health care delivery and health outcomes for patients with diseases of the head and neck. One of its core missions is to educate and train the next generation of health services researchers. To that end, COOR Group supports medical students and residents by providing mentorship and creating an environment that fosters collaboration.

Pediatric Otolaryngology Division Announces Majority of Providers Recognized with the New Complex Pediatric Otolaryngology Board Certification

The division of pediatric otolaryngology is proud to announce that our division is one of the few in the country with a majority of providers recognized with the new Complex Pediatric Otolaryngology board certification. Only about 180 otolaryngologists nationally have achieved this distinction thus far; 8 members of our division are included in that number. This certification reflects the overall high level of expertise in our department in the care of both straightforward and very complex pediatric patients.

Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Awarded Level 1 Certification as a Children’s Surgery Center by the American College of Surgeons

Lucile Packard Children's Hospital was recently awarded the highest level (level 1) certification as a Children's Surgery Center by the American College of Surgeons. We are one of only three hospitals in California, and one of only 16 hospitals west of the Mississippi, to have achieved this recognition. This verification program recognizes the high quality and collaborative nature of the surgical, perioperative, ICU, and emergency care that our hospital provides children and families, as well as the robust quality improvement and safety structures we have in place to continually do better for our patients.

Robson Capasso, MD Chief of Sleep Surgery, Promoted to Professor of Otolaryngology — Head & Neck Surgery in University Medical Line

Dr. Robson Capasso is the Chief of Sleep Surgery, Professor of Otolaryngology — Head & Neck Surgery, Associate Dean of Research at Stanford University School of Medicine, and Advisor to the Stanford Byers Center for Biodesign. His medical training includes Head and Neck Surgery, Neurosciences and Sleep Medicine. He has done research and published extensively on the pre-treatment evaluation and surgical treatment of obstructive sleep apnea. His current research interests focus on the analysis of clinically relevant outcomes and value-based strategies for sleep health. The local and international recognition of this work is often associated with one of his favorite tasks: lecturing and exchanging knowledge nationally and internationally. He has mentored or supervised hundreds of medical students, residents, fellows or visiting scholars from over 30 countries, and dozens of Stanford Biodesign students who developed healthcare projects or companies in the Bay Area, Japan, Brazil and Singapore. He aims to utilize this experience to foster health innovation training of multidisciplinary teams and engineers with broad impact globally. He is a member of the Stanford Medical Leadership Academy, an initiative aiming to foster the development of innovative leadership across and outside departments at the School of Medicine. In his role as Associate Dean of Virtual Medicine, he assists the Dean’s office and our CTSA group on the strategic development of translational research and education.

Most importantly, Robson is Cintia’s husband, Julia, Lucas and Olivia’s father, world traveler, Palmeiras’ fan and tennis enthusiast.

Three Surgeon Scientists Promoted to the Rank of Associate Professor in University Medical Line

Three surgeon scientists promoted to the rank of Associate Professor in University Medical Line: JP Pepper, MD, of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, and Peter Santa Maria, MBBS, PhD, of Otology and Neurotology.

Peter Koltai, MD Recently Made a Long Dreamed of Transition from Surgeon to Artist, After a Remarkable Half Century as a Leading Academic Otolaryngologist

After a remarkable half century as a leading academic otolaryngologist, Dr. Peter Koltai recently made a long dreamed of transition from surgeon to artist.  More about his artistic renaissance later.  Born in Hungary as the child of holocaust survivors, educated in the New York City schools, Peter did his OHNS residency at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.  He credits his mother for encouraging him towards a career in medicine, but not exactly for the usual reasons.  As Peter describes: “She had wanted to be a doctor herself, but the horrors of the holocaust made that dream impossible but left her with the observation that they killed doctors last.”  Following residency, he joined the faculty of the University of Texas in San Antonio and was subsequently recruited to his medical school alma mater, Albany Medical College as a general Otolaryngologist with a focus on head and neck surgery.  His experience in practice kindled a great enthusiasm for taking care of children and, eight years after residency, he did a Pediatric Otolaryngology fellowship in London at the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children. Peter subsequently established the Section of Pediatric Otolaryngology in Albany. After 16 years on the Albany faculty, where he was Professor of Otolaryngology and Pediatrics, Peter was recruited to the Cleveland Clinic where he again founded a new Division of Pediatric Otolaryngology including a fellowship program.  These were only the first of his numerous leadership roles. In 2004, after a national search, Peter was recruited to Stanford as Professor of Otolaryngology and Pediatrics and Chief of the Division of Pediatric OHNS. During his faculty tenue at Stanford, Peter recruited a number of talented young faculty to his division and the program is now ranked among the top Pediatric Fellowships in the nation. He also served as President of two prestigious senior specialty societies: the American Broncho-Esophagologic Association and the American Society of Pediatric Otolaryngology.  In a first for OHNS, Peter served most ably during a 2-year term as President of the Medical Staff of Lucile Packard Children's Hospital. 

As a clinician dedicated to the care of children, Peter is known to be a virtuoso technical surgeon and inspiring teacher and mentor.  As a surgical innovator, Peter developed the early scholarship on the use of plates and screws for managing pediatric facial fractures, championed microdebrider adenoidectomy and partial intracapsular tonsillectomy, and developed special expertise in the management of complex pediatric airway problems, including designing the first FDA approved balloon dilators for laryngo-tracheal stenosis.  In recent years, Peter focused his practice on obstructive sleep apnea, contributing to the development and refinement of sleep endoscopy as a means of visualizing dynamic obstructions and developed novel procedures for managing the newly recognized sites of obstruction. Describing his innovation process, Peter stressed the importance of “Having a deep 3-D understanding of an operation before a worthwhile innovative idea occurred.”

In perhaps the crowning achievement of his career, Peter has made a huge impact on otolaryngology in Zimbabwe, a very poor landlocked country of 17 million people in which there are only 10 otolaryngologists. Peter travelled to the University of Zimbabwe innumerable times over the years.  Working with Clemence Chidziva, MD, a surgeon and professor of otolaryngology at the University of Zimbabwe, Peter and Clemence founded the Pediatric Otolaryngology Clinic at Harare Children’s Hospital which opened in March 2017 after many years of planning. It was the first such clinic in Zimbabwe and only the second in Africa; the first was in neighboring South Africa. To equip the clinic, Peter worked with medical device companies for donations and purchased all sorts of supplies and used medical equipment on eBay, such as microscopes, drills, and surgical instruments, which he crated and shipped to Harare Children’s Hospital.  For several years, Peter hosted two University of Zimbabwe senior OHNS trainees at Stanford for a month each spring. Peter and Rita actually had these visitors as guests in their home.  He and Dr. Chidziva also created PENTAFRICA, a society for Pan African Pediatric OHNS with a focus on continuing medical education courses. Peter also developed a relationship with a grateful family of one of his patients who have provided philanthropic support for the Zimbabwe OHNS project for both education and to help equip and supply the Harare clinic. Peter’s leadership has inspired a number of Stanford OHNS residents, fellows, and faculty members to join him in travelling to Zimbabwe to help with this effort. A nice article Stanford Medicine Magazine (Winter 2019): “No longer neglected: A Zimbabwean clinic’s aim is to vanquish dire ear, nose and throat ailments in children.” His humanitarian work was also featured in the March 2021 AAO-HNS Bulletin, and the same year Peter received the Distinguished Award for Humanitarian Service from the AAO-HNS.

Throughout his career, Peter has been an artist.  Following nearly every surgery, he illustrated the anatomical findings into an exquisite series of notebooks displaying both his surgical and artistic creativity.  Peter also produced original, hand drawn, medical illustrations for many of his academic publications.  As retirement approached, Peter has become a skilled painter, with his artwork displayed in a number of regional shows.  He also supported, and befriended, many Zimbabwean artists and imported their Shona sculptures, both to adorn his and Rita’s magnificent collection, but also and to sell to collectors as a way of helping to support artists struggling to get by in an impoverished and often chaotic country. Many of Peter’s paintings focus on African mothers and their children, drawing inspiration from his visits to Zimbabwe.  Asked about what he viewed to be his greatest career accomplishment, Peter suggested: “What I am most proud of are the thousands of children and families I have had the privilege to take care of over the last 40 years and the good will that has been showered on me as a consequence of my care. Their personal appreciation of the sincerity of my effort is what has given meaning to my life.”

Head & Neck surgeon Michael Kaplan, MD is Retiring After a Highly Productive Four-decade Long Career

Head & neck surgeon Dr. Michael Kaplan is retiring in April following a highly productive four-decade long career in academic Otolaryngology — Head & Neck Surgery.  Mike’s pathway began with his exceptional training:  Harvard Undergraduate (Phi Beta Kappa), Harvard Medical School (MD), and OHNS residency at the Massachusetts Eye & Ear Infirmary.  His two-year head & neck surgical fellowship at the University of Virginia under future Johns Hopkins OHNS Chair and Dean Mike Johns. Mike cites Dr. Johns as his most influential mentor and his paternal grandfather, an otolaryngologist who trained under Chevalier Jackson, as his early inspiration.  Following fellowship, Mike joined the UCSF faculty in 1984 where he rapidly developed highly successful referral practice, spanning a wide geographic region, with his specialized expertise in the care of patients with head and neck cancer.  Mike has earned a well justified reputation as both a masterful technical surgeon and compassionate clinician. Asked about the guiding principle of his approach to patient care, Mike described that a surgeon should always: “Put yourself in your patient’s shoes.” As one indication of the high esteem of his colleagues, Mike has been listed in “Best Doctors in America” annually for over two decades. At UCSF, Mike was honored by his residents with the Roger Boles Teaching award (1987) and the Chief Residents' Special Certificate of Merit (1993).

Transitioning to Stanford OHNS in 2003, Mike helped to mature the newly formed Stanford Cancer Center and, together with Bill Fee, helped to grow the interdisciplinary head & neck cancer program into a preeminent locus for care, education, and research.  A central focus of his research has been upon new therapeutic approaches for head and neck cancer, including immune stimulation possibilities, integration of biological modifiers, and, eventually, genetic approaches. Mike collaborated with both the Irv Weissman and Michael Clarke labs in the Stanford Stem Cell Institute, and collaborators at the University of Michigan, to identify and characterize stem cells in head & neck cancer. A surgical innovator, Mike developed novel approaches to anterior cranial base neoplasms.  In collaboration with his wife Dr. Nancy Fischbein, an eminent neuroradiologist, they described new diagnostic methods and refined imaging algorithms in head and neck cancer.  As a surgeon-scholar, Mike is renowned for his encyclopedic knowledge of his field’s literature and for his highly logical approach to complex clinical decision making.

All who have worked with Mike over his career recognize his many talents and indefatigable work ethic. We all wish him all the best as he transitions into different activities which, no doubt, he will pursue with equal dedication and enthusiasm.

Sleep Surgeon Robert Riley, MD is Retiring After a Trailblazing Career

A much-beloved member of our community, Dr. Robert Riley, Clinical Professor of Otolaryngology — Head & Neck Surgery is retiring this month.

A native Californian, Dr. Riley pursued extensive training, including a DDS at the University of California, San Francisco, Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery residency at the University of California, Los Angeles; and his MD at the University of Alabama, graduating in 1977. 

Bob joined Stanford Otolaryngology — Head & Neck Surgery as a resident in 1978. Shortly after its completion four years later, in a memorable partnership with Dr. Nelson Powell, Bob revolutionized the field of sleep surgery as a pioneer in facial skeletal procedures aiming to improve not only dento-facial abnormalities but a forgotten aspect at the time: the airway. In addition, they shed much-needed light on the sequence of surgical procedures and patient selection to surgically address obstructive sleep apnea with their famous phasic Stanford protocol. As a result, Bob not only improved the lives of countless Stanford patients but also served as a revered surgeon, educator, innovator, and leader.  

Bob’s sharp intellect, wit, wry sense of humor, unrivaled surgical skills, and priceless mentoring will always be treasured among his colleagues, trainees, and staff.  

Select Recent Publications + Podcasts + Videos