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1977 …2023

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Research Comparative anatomy, development and evolution of the mammalian aerodigestive tract (upper respiratory, upper digestive, vocal) and contiguous areas of the cranial base. Our laboratory’s research focuses upon the comparative anatomy, development and evolution of the mammalian aerodigestive tract (upper respiratory, upper digestive, vocal) and contiguous areas of the cranial base. Our laboratory has explored the functional anatomy of this region in an array of mammals - from rodents, to humans and our primate relatives, to whales. Recently, in conjunction with colleagues, the laboratory has been supported by the Office of Naval Research to explore how the great whales produce their unique low-frequency sounds; and on how cetacean upper respiratory systems respond to underwater disturbances. In the area of development, our group has made considerable strides in investigating change in the breathing, swallowing and vocalizing patterns of human infants. This work has had implications for understanding both basic human anatomy as well as certain clinical disorders such as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, also known as Crib Death. (Dr. Laitman’s work on the development of the infant aerodigestive tract was honored by the American Society of Pediatric Otolaryngology in 2000.) Our research on the evolution of the aerodigestive tract has helped to usher in a new methodology that enables the use of fossil remains as a guide to reconstructing the vocal tract of human ancestors. Our groups work in this area has shed light on the distinguishing features of our respiratory system, and has had particular implications for understanding the origins of human speech and language. Our laboratory’s findings in these areas have frequently been the source of much discussion on how humans may differ from other groups such as Neanderthals. Research on the evolution of the vocal tract and speech have been supported by the National Science Foundation, The Foundation for Research into the Origins of Man and The Speech Origins Fund of the American Museum of Natural History. (Dr. Laitman was honored by the American Laryngological Association in 2004 for his pioneering work in charting the anatomy and evolution of the human aerodigestive region.) Current Projects in our laboratory by our graduate and medical students, and collaborations both at Mount Sinai and other institutions, include: 1) Investigations into the biology and development of the primate nasopharyngeal area, and how this relates to the evolution of respiratory and vocal behaviors in humans; 2) comparative biology of mammalian sinus function, and relationships to the evolution of sinusal disease; 3) developmental change in laryngeal position in human infants, and the relationshipto diseases of infancy such as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS); 4) the comparative biology of the Neanderthal upper respiratory tract, with emphasis on understanding the relationship of their anatomy to diseases, such as sleep apnea; and 5) evolutionary effects of aging on biological systems. For more information on our Laboratory and students see: Laitman Laboratory


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