Hair cells in mammals only have a limited ability to heal damage after being traumatised. That might not sound terribly important but when you take the fact that hair cells are crucial to mammalian hearing and lead to deafness when they become injured, it really is. Now a team is revealing that proteins used by sea anemones to repair their own hair cells are capable of healing the hairs found in the ears of mice.
Researchers have known for years that sea anemones have a remarkable capability to repair damaged sensory hair bundles on their tentacles by secreting proteins that go about fixing broken hair tips. More recently, a team of researchers demonstrated that they were able to use anemone proteins to help blind cavefish to reduce the regeneration time of the sensory hairs on their faces. This led the current researchers to wonder if the anemone proteins could help repair mammal hairs.
To test their idea out, the researchers experimentally traumatised the hairs found in mouse ears and then exposed them to a solution of containing the crucial anemone proteins. The results were remarkable and there is now a real possibility for this tactic to be used to improve hearing in those of us who attended too many rock concerts during our teenage years. You can read more in The Economist article that I wrote on this subject here or, if you are not in a reading mood, you can also listen to it here on The Economist's Babbage podcast.