Hela Azaiez, PhD
Senior Research Scientist ( Hearing Research Team Lead)
Person Type: 

Address: Molecular Otolaryngology and Renal Research Laboratories 

5296 CBRB, 285 Newton Road, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA52246

Email address: hela-azaiez@uiowa.edu

Phone: 319-335-1426



I am a Senior Scientist at the MORL. I received my Master of Science in Biological Engineering and my Ph.D. in Human Molecular Genetics at the University of Sfax in Tunisia conjointly with the University of Iowa. After completing a postdoc at the MORL, I went back to my home country Tunisia as an Assistant Professor at the Pasteur Institute of Tunis where I focused on characterizing the genetic spectrum of orphan diseases in the Tunisian population. I returned to Iowa City in 2012 where I am currently leading the Hearing research and diagnostics teams at MORL. As a molecular genetics and genomics enthusiast, I have sought to understand how small changes at the DNA level could have dramatic effects at the organism level and specifically affecting the auditory system. My research aims to understand the molecular mechanisms of hearing and deafness and to translate this knowledge into better clinical diagnostics and improved patient care. My interdisciplinary research program is focused on the discovery of novel genes, genetic modifiers and non-coding regulatory elements involved in hereditary deafness as well as the investigation of genetic contributions to age- and noise-induced hearing loss. I also oversee the development of next-generation sequencing pipelines and bioinformatic tools to improve identification, interpretation and clinical correlation of genomic variants. I am fortunate to collaborate with a diverse group of scientists worldwide both to advance basic research and establish frameworks and guidelines for clinical genetic testing for hearing loss. We have made significant discoveries to better understand the causes and mechanisms of genetic deafness. The short term benefits this knowledge provides are being realized in clinical medicine, where the use of comprehensive genetic testing for deafness has revolutionized the field of Precision Medicine and the evaluation of the hearing-impaired person. In the long term, this knowledge will ultimately result in the development of novel treatment options for deafness.


Highlighted Publications

  1. Azaiez H, Booth KT, Ephraim SS, Crone B, Black-Ziegelbein EA, Marini RJ, Shearer AE, Sloan-Heggen CM, Kolbe D, Casavant T, Schnieders MJ, Nishimura C, Braun T, Smith RJH (2018) Genomic Landscape and Mutational Signatures of Deafness-Associated Genes. Am J Hum Genet. 2018 Oct 4;103(4):484-497.
  2. Booth KT, Azaiez H, Kahrizi K, Wang D, Zhang Y, Frees K, Nishimura C, Najmabadi H, Smith RJ. (2018) Exonic mutations and exon skipping: Lessons learned from DFNA5. Hum Mutat. 2018 Mar;39(3):433-440.
  3. Booth KT, Kahrizi K, Babanejad M, Daghagh H, Bademci G, Arzhangi S, Zareabdollahi D, Duman D, El-Amraoui A, Tekin M, Najmabadi H, Azaiez H*, Smith RJ* (2018) Variants in CIB2 cause DFNB48 and not USH1J. Clin Genet. 93(4):812-821. *Co-corresponding authors
  4. Sloan-Heggen CM, Bierer AO, Shearer AE, Kolbe DL, Nishimura CJ, Frees KL, Ephraim SS, Shibata SB, Booth KT, Campbell CA, Ranum PT, Weaver AE, Black-Ziegelbein EA, Wang D, Azaiez H, Smith RJ (2016) Comprehensive genetic testing in the clinical evaluation of 1119 patients with hearing loss. Hum Genet 135(4):441-50
  5. Azaiez H, Decker AR, Booth KT, Simpson AC, Shearer AE, Huygen PL, Bu F, Hildebrand MS, Ranum PT, Shibata SB, Turner A, Zhang Y, Kimberling WJ, Cornell RA, Smith RJ (2015) HOMER2, a Stereociliary Scaffolding Protein, is Essential for Normal Hearing in Humans and Mice. PLOS Genetics 27:11(3)
  6. Azaiez H, Yang T, Prasad S, Sorensen JL, Nishimura CJ, Kimberling WJ, Smith RJ (2007) Genotype-phenotype correlations for SLC26A4-related deafness. Human Genetics 122: 451-457
  7. Azaiez H, Chamberlin GP, Fischer SM, Welp CL, Prasad SD, Taggart RT, del Castillo I, Van Camp G, Smith RJ (2004) GJB2: the spectrum of deafness-causing allele variants and their phenotype. Human Mutation 24: 305-311