January 16, 2015

Could cord blood have a future role in improved hearing treatments? If so, what is stem cell research doing to make it a reality?

Sensorineural hearing loss is the most common type of permanent auditory condition in both children and adults. It affects almost 15 percent of all children in the U.S., with varying degrees of severity1, and nearly 30 million Americans in general2, according to several federal surveys compiled by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

The condition, which is due to damage of the inner ear or its nerve pathways, reduces a person’s ability to hear faint and/or high frequency sounds. It can be caused by one or more acquired factors including illness (such as measles), medications, head injury/trauma, or exposure to loud noises. Other possibilities are those that are more unavoidable, such as an inner ear deformity, premature birth or an inherited genetic condition. Without appropriate early intervention, hearing loss can hinder a child’s speech and language skills, social development, and lead to long-term learning and vocational difficulties.

To date, there is no surgical or medical treatment available to reverse this condition.

Medical professionals are optimistic about improving that prognosis, however, and the powerful tools they plan to change it with are cord blood stem cells. Researchers at the Florida Hospital for Children in Orlando are currently recruiting children ages 6 weeks to 6 years with sensorineural hearing loss for a Phase 1 FDA-regulated clinical trial using umbilical cord blood stem cells3. The purpose of the year-long study is to determine whether autologous cord blood transplants are a safe and feasible treatment for acquired hearing loss. The clinical trial will also look at the effectiveness of the treatment long-term, such as its success at improving hearing function in the child, as well as his or her speech and language development.

According to clinical trial description, this study is in response to successes shown in previous animal studies. The earlier cord blood experiments performed on mice and guinea pigs with acquired hearing loss showed improvement following the treatment. The results were enhanced cell regrowth and improved auditory brainstem response. Because this clinical trial will be using autologous (one’s own) cord blood, parents of the children seeking to take part in the clinical trial must have taken advantage of umbilical cord blood banking for the child at birth. This is a prime example highlighting the importance of parents being proactive in their child’s future health. No one knows what health issues a child will encounter during their lifetime, but with cord blood banking, you are giving your child the gift of options. Cord blood banking is one of the best and most important decision parents can make for their newborn child.

  • Niskar, AS, et al. Prevalence of hearing loss among children 6 to 19 years of age: the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. JAMA.1998;279:1071-1075
  • Kochkin, S. (2001, December). MarkeTrak VI: The VA and direct mail sales spark growth in hearing aid market. The Hearing Review, 8(12): 16–24, 63–65.
  • Florida Hospital; Safety of Autologous Stem Cell Infusion for Children with Acquired Hearing Loss. In: ClinicalTrials.gov [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): National Library of Medicine (US). 2015- [cited 2015 Feb 10]. Available from: https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT02038972 NLM Identifier: NCT02038972.
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