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New Research on Zebrafish Brings a Cure for Hearing Loss Closer

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New research funded by Action on Hearing Loss has brought scientists closer to being able to trigger the regeneration of damaged cells in the inner ear and gives hope to the 10 million people in the UK affected by a hearing loss that a cure can be found.

Most hearing loss is caused by the loss of sensory hair cells in the inner ear that detect sound vibrations. The human ear cannot replace these cells, so hearing loss is permanent - but remarkably, zebrafish can regenerate these cells and were used in the study to discover drugs that may lead to the restoration of hearing.

Researchers tested 1680 different drugs and discovered two that enhance the regeneration of sensory hair cells in zebrafish and six drugs that block or slow regeneration.

Professor Rubel who led the study at University of Washington said: ‘This study demonstrates that it is possible to screen large libraries of compounds to find drugs and drug targets that influence hair cell regeneration. It provides some useful targets for future studies. Moreover, it demonstrated the usefulness of and extension of this approach to screen a much wider range of compounds.’

‘Discovering compounds or drugs able to influence regeneration is important as it will help us understand the biological processes involved, providing clues as to how we might be able to trigger regeneration in the human ear. The drugs discovered so far have been shown to interfere with cell division suggesting that the ability of cells to divide in a damaged ear will be key to triggering regeneration.’

Dr Ralph Holme, Head of Biomedical Research at Action on Hearing Loss said: ‘We are very excited by this research as it opens the door to the possibility that drugs able to trigger the regeneration of hair cells in the inner ear will be found in the future, revolutionizing the way hearing loss is currently treated.’