Umbilical cord stem cells may restore infants' hearing

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After promising results in mice, researchers in Texas are testing umbilical cord blood stem cell transplants in infants as a way to treat their hearing loss.

An AFP story, via The Vancouver Sun, explains that scientists at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center in Houston say the treatment could either limit or reverse infant hearing loss. They've already enrolled one patient and will sign up nine others, ages 6 weeks to 18 months, in the Phase I trial over the next year to test both safety and efficacy of the cord blood transfusions.

Mice, as usual are the trailblazers here. AFP recounts that the mouse studies showed that the blood, which contains stem cells known as hematopoietic cells, helped rebuild inner ear structures in the little rodents. The belief is the same thing could happen in infants.

"We are at the initial stages of this process and the results are looking promising," lead investigator Samer Fakhri told AFP.

How wonderful it would be if umbilical cord blood could help restore hearing in infants, which can be damaged during or after birth for reasons including oxygen deprivation or even just loud noises. But this trial raises questions about whether the general public will benefit from any future treatment (if it works) or just parents who bank the blood privately. The privately owned Cord Blood Registry is funding the unusual study, and families of infants in the trial must have already banked their umbilical cord blood with the company.

CBR and other companies like it want parents to pay to bank their umbilical cord blood and save it for personal use. However, as the AFP notes, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended sharing of the blood in a bank for public use.

Whatever the controversy over private companies that bank umbilical cord blood, it has long been thought to have therapeutic value. The AFP story points out that the blood is already being tested for certain brain injuries, cerebral palsy and juvenile diabetes, among other diseases--even leukemia.

- here's the AFP story

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