Madeline Cooper, who is nearly 2 years old, is the first person in the nation to take part in a new Food and Drug Administration-approved study of stem cell treatment of sensorineural hearing loss.
Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston and California-based Cord Blood Registry will eventually enroll another nine children in this first phase of the study.
Unlike some advertised stem cell treatments that may cost patients tens of thousands of dollars — and, according to critics, are little more than quackery — the Conners paid nothing to take part and have been promised no specific results.
The process is simple: Doctors inject the children with stem cells from their own stored umbilical cords. Because it is the patients’ own blood, there is little chance the treatment will produce side effects.
In theory, the treatment will adjust patients’ immune systems to encourage their bodies to repair themselves. In truth, researchers have no idea if it will work.
Earlier Italian studies on mice concluded that stem cells may help the body repair damaged cells in the ear and restore some hearing in these types of cases, according to a 2008 published report in the University of South Florida journal Cell Transplantation.Madeline's hearing loss has gone from extreme to moderate hearing loss since undergoing the treatment. A definite improvement. This stem cell treatment will continue and may take a few years to help fully restore hearing loss. We will not know how fast this rate of restoration will take place over the next several months to a few years. We will know more once the Cooper family head back to Texas in July, and again in January of 2013, to get a more detailed assessment of Madeline’s improvement.
This will be the start of a new generation of cord-blood stem cell babies and toddlers born deaf to become, in theory, hearing with the help of their own blood-cord stem cells. An exciting era in regenerative medicine for parents of deaf children. This new cord-blood stem cell procedure was covered in my blog piece in January 2012 for your review.
Once proved successful parents of deaf babies will see this as the preferred treatment to help restore their child's hearing loss. This will certainly be a much preferable route (and cheaper, too) than to choose cochlear implant. Now the question becomes, will this eventually destroy the cochlear implant industry? Only time will tell.