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Study: Sea anemones may be key to repairing damaged hair cells

Sea anemones may be the key to repairing damaged hair cells in the inner ear.

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

Why Sea Anemones?

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.

Hair cells in the inner ear

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.

Research project

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.

Angie Aspinall
Angie Aspinall
Phonak hEARo, Angie is a freelance journalist, copywriter, website designer and social media consultant. (www.aspinallink.co.uk) She lives in Scotland with her husband Richard, and their Westie, Tilly. Angie was diagnosed with Otosclerosis in her right ear at the age of 30. In 2011, she suffered sudden profound hearing loss in her left ear. She now uses a Phonak CROS II with a Phonak Audéo V hearing aid. You can follow Angie's international discussion group #HearingLossHour on Twitter @hearinglosshour.