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Cord Blood Stem Cells Help Restore Hearing in a Child

Experimental treatment involving umbilical cord blood stem cells helped restore hearing in a two-year girl. The treatment was conducted by Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center during a clinical trial approved by FDA.

Because of a virus infection acquired by her mother during pregnancy, Madeleine Connor suffered hearing loss. At age 1, she was deaf in her right ear and experienced severe hearing loss in the left one. As a result of hearing problems, she could not speak and experienced difficulties in distinguishing the direction sounds came from.

Her mother was first to enroll Madeleine for stem cell treatment for hearing loss. In January 2012, Madeleine, 2, underwent an experimental treatment with her own cord blood stem cells earlier stored in the cord blood bank. The stem cells were infused into the baby’s damaged inner ear.

The stem cell therapy helped reverse her condition: Madeleine’s mother reports a dramatic improvement in her daughter’s hearing that has occurred over the past six months. Madeleine not only has become able to notice the direction the sound is coming from, but also has said her first words. During the first follow-up appointment doctors tested the toddler’s speech and language which showed that the girl’s hearing improved. However, the researchers are still cautious and would not hurry with conclusions. They expect to observe improvements six months to a year after the procedure.

This is the first time the scientists experiment with cord blood stem cells to reverse hearing loss in children. The study that will be carried throughout 2012 will involve another 9 children aged 6 weeks to 18 months. They all will receive their own, autologous, cord blood stem cells. If the trial shows significant improvement in children studied, the procedure may become beneficial to other children with acquired -- not genetic -- hearing loss.

Studies in mice that preceded human trials suggest long-term hearing restoration after stem cell transplantation. The researchers expect that if the procedure works, children like Madeleine will have long-term restored hearing.