Seeing Stripes, Hearing Better: The Zebra Fish Could Change How We Treat Our Ears
Thanks to a researcher in Washington, one tiny creature called the zebra fish could change how we understand and treat hearing loss.
Allison Coffin, assistant professor of neuroscience at Washington State University Vancouver, is studying how zebra fish use sound to communicate. She looks at the “lateral line,” a group of outer sensory cells similar to those in in the human ear, to see what happens when hearing-related cells are damaged. How do the cells die? How could they have been protected?
In the human ear, tiny hair cells — when functioning normally — bend and move when sound vibrations hit them. Then they transmit signals to the brain, which decodes the information and interprets the sounds around us.
However, our ears’ hair cells can come under attack and die, leaving them useless for sending the brain its info. Loud noises, chemotherapy agents and drugs called aminoglycide antibiotics can all damage the cells.
By studying similar cells in the friendly, adaptable zebra fish, Coffin hopes she’ll make discoveries that can lead to drugs for hearing-loss prevention. That’s some pretty valuable information, when you consider it’s coming from a creature about 2.5 inches long.
Medicine and technology to fight hearing loss is continually advancing. If you’re experiencing hearing loss now, we know how frustrating it can be — but we’d be happy to talk you through your treatment options. Help is getting better…and with any luck, creatures like the zebra fish will make sure that progress keeps swimming right along.
From our own Dr. Neil Sperling:
“The Zebra fish has actually proven to be a highly valuable animal model for inner ear studies. This has given us new insights into the workings of our own inner ear. Active research is ongoing at universities including SUNY-Downstate on structures of the inner ear that are remarkably similar to human structures.”