About 15% of school-age kids in the US suffer from acquired hearing loss. Acquired hearing loss can have a number of causes: illness (chicken pox, meningitis, measles, and others), medications (such as certain antibiotics), head injury, and exposure to loud noise. All of these factors can damage tiny hairlike cells called cilia and other delicate tissues in the inner ear.
What are the risks of acquired hearing loss?
In young children, hearing loss is considered a neurological emergency. It can lead to delayed language skills and put them at risk of academic and social problems. But exciting developments are taking place as researchers find that stem cells may have the ability to regenerate the injured parts of the inner ear.
Acquired Hearing Loss and Stem Cells
Studies performed on lab animals have been encouraging. In one study, mice with acquired hearing loss were given IV injections of human cord blood. The researchers found evidence that the hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs ) in the cord blood migrated through the bloodstream to the damaged areas of the inner ear and engrafted (were incorporated) into its tissues.1
The researchers found evidence that the hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs ) in the cord blood migrated through the bloodstream to the damaged areas of the inner ear and engrafted (were incorporated) into its tissues
Encouraged by these studies, researchers at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston, Texas, has embarked on a Phase I on the use of cord blood stem cells in hearing-impaired children. In 2012, at age 2, Madeline Connor became the first child to be treated for hearing loss with her own cord blood, which her mother, Stephanie, had banked after birth. Stephanie had contracted a viral infection during pregnancy, and it passed to her unborn daughter. By the age of 1, Madeline was completely deaf in her right ear and had severe hearing loss in her left.
Six months later, Stephanie noticed a major improvement in her daughter’s hearing. While prior to the transplant Madeline couldn’t discern where sounds were coming from, after treatment she started to turn in the direction of the sound. And to her mother’s delight, Madeline started speaking for the first time.
- Revoltella RP, Papini S, Rosellini A, et al. Cochlear repair by transplantation of human cord blood CD133 cells to non-scid mice made deaf with kanamycin and noise. Cell Transplantation. 2008;17(6):665-678. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18819255. Accessed November 17, 2014.