Cell rejuvenation, it’s the stuff of comic books and science fiction films. Or is it?
Chances are, you’ve heard of Wolverine, the mutant superhero from the pages of Marvel comics, played onscreen since 2000 by Hugh Jackman in the X-Men series of films. Wolverine has a number of powers and special abilities, slow ageing, increased strength, his metal covered bone claws are pretty handy, but chief among his talents is the ability to heal quickly. After a battle, Wolverine can completely regenerate, reversing any and all damage so that he looks and feels just as good as new.
What if you could heal any damage you’ve experienced in your life? Sure would be great, wouldn’t it?
In fiction, the ability to magically heal at will goes back a long way, but thanks to science, reality may finally be catching up with fantasy.
According to a recent article in The Atlantic entitled “Human Hearing Loss Could Be Reversible” scientists are currently investigating how to regrow the delicate hair cells of the human inner ear.
It’s reported that when songbirds lose their hearing due to loud noises or trauma, they can naturally regenerate the sensory hair cells in their inner ears. With their restored hearing, the birds can once again decode the complex songs from other birds. In the animal kingdom, this ear repair is almost universal in vertebrates. Fish and frogs share it. It seems that it’s only for mammals that hair cell death is permanent.
Despite great improvements in hearing aids over the years, there currently exists no solution to recover lost hearing.
But perhaps, not for much longer. Maybe some day humans could possess the healing powers of Wolverine, at least when it comes to our hearing.
In lower vertebrates like fish and birds, new hair cells arise from the supporting cells of the cochlea’s lining. Now, for the first time, scientists are developing methods that could do the same for humans.
A Dutch company called Audion Therapeutics is working on a proof of concept for regeneration of human-ear hair cells. Using compounds developed by pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and applying them locally to the inner ear, Project REGAIN is now planning its first small, human clinical trials.
“Primarily we aim to show that it is safe and well tolerated,” says Rolf Jan Rutten, Audion’s CEO in The Atlantic, “And also we will look for an efficacy signal.”
This exciting new research could have a profound impact on the way hearing loss is treated in the future.
Jon Waterhouse, Director of Professional Practice for Connect Hearing, says this research is exciting and could eventually represent a breakthrough that could help millions.
“Sometimes, I’m just floored at some of the innovative ideas scientists and researchers are coming up with,” says Waterhouse. “Researchers from around the world are doing amazing work, and every year there are scientific breakthroughs being reported. The good news is the wheels of research never stop turning, the scientists and lab workers are doing their part. Now we need people to do their part. Get involved. Get informed. Come in for a free hearing test at one of our clinics. Make your hearing a priority because much of the hearing loss we see happening today, especially with youth, is preventable.”
So you might not get the rest of Wolverine’s powers (not yet anyway), but the fight to put hearing loss in the history books is heating up. Will a day come when doctors can rejuvenate lost hearing cells naturally? Could there be a time in the not so distant future when seniors will be able to hear as well as children? Only time will tell.