Some antibiotics and chemotherapy agents can damage hair cells in our inner ear, causing irreversible loss of hearing – a phenomenon known as ototoxicity. Searching for a solution, scientists used micro-array plates filled with young zebrafish (pictured), to test the potential of 11,000 different compounds to counter ototoxicity. Neuromasts, cells responsible for the fishes’ perception of movement in water, are similar to our hair cells, so their response to chemicals is a good indication of possible impacts on hearing. Thanks to a fluorescent dye that illuminates live neuromasts, the researchers could identify compounds that protected these cells from destruction by antibiotics. Having found a molecule with the desired effect, they recently tested a further 400 similar compounds to identify an even more promising candidate, better-suited to use as a pharmaceutical drug. Successful development could encourage a wider use of certain antibiotics that are currently avoided due to the risk of hearing loss.
Written by Emmanuelle Briolat
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