Patients with hearing loss could now be treated with sea anemones as scientists have found they are able to repair damage to the inner ear.
Sea anemone are covered in hair bundles that have similar properties to the human inner ear; sensitive to vibrations, they can detect prey moving nearby.
These hair cells are covered in a cocktail of proteins, which allow anemone to regenerate their bodies after trauma – they are able to rebuild as much as half of their body mass in as little as eight minutes.
Lead researcher Glen Watson from the University of Louisiana said: “It occurred to me that if any animal could recover from damage to its hair bundles, anemones would be the ones.”
Watson took the “regenerative” protein cocktail sample from the sea creature and attached these cultured cells to the inner ear – cochlear - of mice for up to an hour.
The results, which were published in the journal of Experimental Biology, found that hair cells of mice “recovered significantly” after the application of the proteins.
Watson said: “The sea anemone proteins had repaired the damaged mouse cells.”
After these positive results, the team then searched the mouse genome for examples of the crucial repair proteins and found evidence that mice produce many proteins that are closely related to the sea anemone repair proteins.
This “ground-breaking discovery” suggests that it may be possible to mobilise the same repair mechanisms in mammals with damaged hearing.
Watson hopes this breakthrough will eventually lead to a treatment for patients with acute hearing loss.
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