Hearing damage may be 'restored' by sea anemones
Sea anemone proteins have been shown to repair the kind of hearing damage caused by loud sound.
In laboratory experiments, a cocktail of the proteins triggered rapid recovery of damaged cochlear hair cells - the cells of the inner ear that translate sound vibrations into nerve signals.
Sea anemones use vibration-sensitive hair cells covering their tentacles to detect passing prey.
The creatures are known to possess a miraculous ability to replace lost tissue. They can even rebuild themselves after tearing in half during asexual reproduction.
Lead researcher Dr Glen Watson, from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, US, said: "It occurred to me that if any animal could recover from damage to its hair bundles, anemones would be the ones."
The scientists extracted proteins from mucus-coating sea anemone bodies that appeared to hold the key to their regenerative powers.
They then deprived mouse hair cells of calcium to simulate the serious damage to mammalian hearing organs inflicted by loud blasts of sound.
When the cells were exposed to the sea anemone proteins for an hour they restructured themselves and recovered enough to absorb a marker dye.
The scientists, who report their findings in the Journal of Experimental Biology, hope the early research will eventually lead to a treatment for patients with acute hearing loss.