Chickens, along with other non-mammalian vertebrates, have the ability to replace damaged hair cells in their ears. By transforming supporting cells into hair cells, these animals are able to restore their own damaged hearing. This ability offers millions of people around the world the hope that someday soon this ability can be cultivated in humans.
Research supported by the Hearing Health Foundation has made great strides in understanding this incredible restorative ability. In fact, the foundation is now pushing to use these insights to forge a cure for human hearing loss in the next decade. Shari Eberts, chairman of the Hearing Health Foundation’s Board of Directors, believes such a cure would be life changing.
To this end, the Hearing Health Foundation is supporting a collaboration titled the Hearing Restoration Project (HRP), pulling together like-minded scientists across ten institutions to identify how chicken supporting cells transform into hair cells, then work to find drugs that will initiate the process in humans. Ed Rubel, a researcher at the University of Washington and a member of the HRP, emphasizes that collaboration is the key: “The wonderful thing about the consortium is that it includes only people who…. want to share information, share early-stage information, share the other things that they’re doing in their laboratories, and work together.”
Researchers are optimistic they can hit the ten-year goal, but the work is challenging. It requires intense creative focus, diligence, and the sense of community outlined by Rubel. While ten years is a long time to wait, there is much room for optimism and, with proper funding and support, the dreams of the HRP will be realized.