Quite by accident, the Hearing Health Foundation (formerly the Deafness Research Foundation) discovered that chickens can regenerate the loss of hair cells in their ears. While conducting a study on how drugs known to cause hearing damage affect the sensory cells in the inner ear, HHF-funded scientists knew that they would have to purposely damage a chicken’s hair cells.
To accomplish this, the chickens were given a common anti-biotic drug (with known hearing damage side effects) to laboratory chickens for ten days. On the 11th day the scientists could see that many of the hair cells in the inner ear were lost and the loss continued for a few days afterward. But three weeks later when the same chickens were examined, the hair cells were intact. This caused the scientists to doubt their work so they repeated the test again….and again. The findings were accurate. The chickens were, in fact, able to regenerate the hair cells of the their inner ears. We now know that this is true for all vertebrate animals except one…mammals (including humans).
The concept of the regeneration of inner ear hair cells has been proven successful with mice. An HRP* scientist discovered that mice can be stimulated to regenerate new hair cells by using a drug to block a certain auditory pathway that usually prevents hair cells in mammals from regenerating. Once the drug blocks the the pathway, the supporting cells in the cochlea were able to transform into hair cells and hearing was partially restored. There is still much work to be done but it’s now proven that hair cell regeneration in mammals is possible with a little help from modern medicine!
*The Hearing Restoration Project (HRP) funds research to translate what is known about chickens and other animals to people, with the hope of leading to a cure for hearing loss. With 90% of tinnitus (ringing in the ears) occurring with an underlying hearing loss, a cure for hearing loss may also be a cure for tinnitus.
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