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Top doctors and brainboxes in America and Argentina believe they may be on the track of pills which could "turn down" people's ears, protecting their hearing from damage at noisy clubs or concerts.

"So far, there is little or no specific pharmacology of hearing," says Paul Fuchs, professor of otolaryngeal surgery at Johns Hopkins in the US.

But the prof reckons all that could change. Working with fellow medi-boffins from the US and Argentina, he focused on manipulating the nAChR protein found on sensory hair cells in the ear. In order to avoid inadvertently deafening any actual humans, the researchers initially focused their efforts on mice.

By means of cunning meddling with their murine test subjects' genetics, Fuchs and his colleagues were able to produce a group of mutant mice whose hearing had been chemically turned down. These, and a group of regular mice, were exposed to noise levels equivalent to those one might experience at the rhythm-music centred events or gatherings popular among the young of the human race.

In precise terms, this is a noise level of 100 decibels, well able to cause hearing damage. According to the boffins, the mutated mice whose internal volume knobs had been turned down suffered much less hearing damage from the laboratory rave experience than did the unaltered ones.

Fuchs seems confident that this could lead to nifty pills, stick-on patches or whatever which could temporarily turn clubbers' hearing down in order to preserve it from the shattering row prevalent in their chosen social milieux, without the use of any possibly unfashionable in-ear electronics, earplugs etc.

"We think this pathway could be a therapeutic target for protecting from sound damage," says the prof.

"There is a real chance of finding ear-specific drugs in the future."

It might be, however, that musicians and DJs would respond in future by simply turning up the volume even further in order to achieve the same ear-crippling effects they do today. And, of course, the volume de-pump-upper pills would need to avoid any unfortunate side effects when taken in combination with the usual legislatively disadvantaged array of chemical canapés often seen as essential for full enjoyment of modern music.

Fuchs' and his co-authors' research can be downloaded here. ®

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