Researchers hope to develop hearing loss treatments by studying the regenerative capabilities inner ear cells in chickens. We discovered some interesting info on these little guys and hearing aids.
An Alternative to Hearing Aids
Scientists are on the path of a new application that could provide a unique alternative to hearing aids. By studying hair cells found in the inner ears of chickens, researchers are in the process of creating treatments that cure hearing loss in humans, minimizing the demand for hearing aids in the future.
Chickens can regenerate inner ear cells that replace cells damaged from noise and other forms of physical trauma. All vertebrates except mammals can exhibit this phenomenon.
"The key to restoring hearing in humans is to regenerate cells deep within the inner ear," said Shari Eberts, chairwoman of the board of directors of the Hearing Health Foundation, which is funding the research. "While humans cannot regenerate hair cells in the inner ear after they are damaged, chickens can. In fact, most animals other than mammals can regenerate these delicate cells, restoring their hearing spontaneously after damage."
Hearing Aids and the Hearing Restoration Project
The Hearing Restoration Project (HRP) involves researchers from more than 10 institutions including Harvard Medical School, who are studying chickens in order to find out how humans could possibly regenerate inner ear cells.
Approximately 36 million adults in the U.S. have some kind of hearing loss, and 25 million have tinnitus, according to the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. The Hearing Health Foundation aims to manufacture a cure by 2024.
According to Eberts, researchers are studying fish and mice as well. Fish can regenerate hair cells like chickens, but mice cannot.
"By analyzing what genes allow for regeneration in fish and chickens, we can compare those to mouse genes to see where the differences occur," she said. "Once we have an understanding of what genes and sets of genes (known as pathways) play a role in allowing for regeneration in fish and chickens, and which inhibit regeneration in mice, we will have a clearer understanding of how to trigger regeneration in humans."
Animal Biology and Hearing Aid Design
Similar studies with different animal species have found them to have unique hearing capabilities that offer promising new innovations for hearing aid technology. This includes the impressive hearing abilities of the Greater Wax Moth, a tiny insect found in beehives, and the unique anatomy of the locust. Hearing aids based on structures found in nature are considered to have a “biomimetic design.”