Can a chicken cure hearing loss and tinnitus?

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By: Tara Guastella, MPA

Program Administrator, Hearing Health Foundation

25 years ago research partially funded by Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) yielded a truly remarkable discovery: chickens have the ability to spontaneously restore their hearing after they suffer hearing loss. Since then, researchers around the world have been working on ways to translate what we know about chickens (and most animals except for mammals) to people.

The promise of a cure for hearing loss is in the inner-ear hair cells (resembling hairs on your head yet having nothing to do with them) that make hearing possible. Most types of hearing loss—including noise-induced hearing loss, age-related hearing loss, and hearing loss caused by certain medications—are the result of damage to these specialized inner-ear cells. These various forms of hearing loss can also occur with tinnitus, or ringing in the ears. In humans, hearing loss and tinnitus are permanent once the hair cells are damaged.

Of course, hearing aids and cochlear implants can provide a great benefit to those with hearing loss. But within the next ten years HHF aims to begin clinical trials on a cure for hearing loss through hair cell regeneration. Since roughly 90 percent of tinnitus cases occur with an underlying hearing loss, a cure for hearing loss may also be the key to a cure for tinnitus.

In 2011 HHF launched its most important research initiative ever: the Hearing Restoration Project. With a goal of delivering, for the first time, a genuine, biologic cure for the nearly 50 million Americans living with hearing loss and tinnitus, the HRP has begun collaborative work on regeneration in the inner ear.

The HRP is comprised of researchers at eleven world-renowned institutions in the US, UK, and Canada who have committed to our consortium model—working together, fully sharing technologies, data and credit—to expedite the timeline to a cure for hearing loss and tinnitus.

The consortium includes senior researchers from:

Baylor College of Medicine

Harvard Medical School

Imperial College – London

Oregon Health & Science University

Stanford University School of Medicine

Stowers Institute for Medical Research

University of Michigan

University of Southern California

University of Toronto

University of Washington

Washington University School of Medicine

For years, scientific research has been conducted in relative isolation—one researcher or one institution working alone to tackle a major health issue. HHF developed the HRP consortium model to accelerate the path to a cure by eliminating repetitive work and fostering cooperation rather than competition among scientists. This approach allows the group to work across species and techniques in a highly efficient manner.

In early 2013, a discovery out of Harvard University, revealed that mice can be stimulated to regenerate hair cells and partially restore hearing, using a drug that blocks a certain auditory pathway in order to promote hair cell production. This proof of concept shows, for the first time, that hair cells in adult mammals can be made to regenerate. This is exciting news as it gets us one step closer to a cure for hearing loss and tinnitus.

For more about a cure for hearing loss and tinnitus, visit www.hhf.org.