Researchers from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette have found that cells from sea anemones may be able to help repair damaged hair cells in the inner ears of mice, according to The Hearing Review,
Sea anemones have remarkable regenerative properties; so much so that after they have torn themselves in two during reproduction, they can rebuild the missing halves of their bodies. They also restore the sensitive hair cells on their tentacles and can do so in as little as eight minutes.
In the ear, the hair cells have tiny hair-like structures on the surface called stereocilia, which are fastened at the tips by protein strands. When hair cells are damaged, the tethers break, which causes the stereocilia to collapse.
Glen Watson, PhD, explains that when thinking how damaged cochlear hair cells might be restored, it occurred to him that, “If any animal could recover from damage to its hair bundles, anemones would be the ones.”
In the experiment, hair cells from the inner ear of mice were placed in a calcium-poor environment to create damage to the cells. A protein mix, (extracted from Starlet Sea Anemones) was then added to the damaged mouse hair cells for an hour.
After an hour, the hair cells had recovered significantly but, even more excitingly, the researchers then searched the mouse genome for examples of the crucial repair proteins. They discovered evidence that mice produce proteins which are closely related to those of the sea anemone.
Does this discovery mean that in future, scientists may be able to mobilize the same repair mechanisms in mammals with damaged hearing? Maybe. The researchers say they hope that their discovery will lead to a treatment for human patients with acute hearing loss.
Only time will tell.
The research article on how sea anemone proteins can repair damaged mouse cochlear hair cells appeared in the August 2016 edition of the Journal of Experimental Biology.