Stem Cells To Help Treat Brain Injury and Hearing Loss

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Cord Blood Registry (CBR) is the exclusive partner for a growing number of clinical researchers focusing on the use of a child’s own cord blood stem cells to help treat pediatric brain injury and acquired hearing loss. To ensure consistency in cord blood stem cell processing, storage and release for infusion, three separate trials have included CBR in their FDA-authorized protocol—including two at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) working in partnership with Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital, and a third at Georgia Health Sciences University, home of the Medical College of Georgia (MCG). This makes CBR the only family stem cell bank pairing researchers with prospective patients for these studies.

“Partnering with a series of specialists who want to research the use of a child’s own newborn blood stem cells on a variety of disease states allows CBR to help advance medical research for regenerative therapies by connecting the child whose family banked with CBR to appropriate researchers,” said Heather Brown, MS, CGC, Vice President of Scientific & Medical Affairs at Cord Blood Registry. “The pediatric specialists from UTHealth, Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital, and Georgia Health Sciences University are at the forefront of stem cell research as they evaluate cord blood stem cells’ ability to help facilitate the healing process after damage to nerves and tissue.”

Hearing Loss and Traumatic Brain Injury Clinical Trials Break New Ground

Sensorineural hearing loss affects approximately 6 per 1,000 children by 18 years of age, with 9 percent resulting from acquired causes such as viral infection and head injury.53,54,55 The Principal Investigator of the hearing loss study is Samer Fakhri, M.D., surgeon at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center and associate professor and program director in the Department of Otorhinolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery at UTHealth. He is joined by James Baumgartner, M.D., sponsor of the study and guest research collaborator for this first-of-its-kind FDA-regulated, Phase 1 safety study of the use of cord blood stem cells to treat children with acquired hearing loss.

The trial follows evidence from published studies in animals that cord blood treatment can repair damaged organs in the inner ear. Clients of CBR who were diagnosed with a post-birth hearing loss and are 6 weeks to 18 months old may be eligible for the year-long study. “The window of opportunity to foster normal language development is limited,” said James Baumgartner, M.D. “This is the first study of its kind with the potential to actually restore hearing in children and allow for more normal speech and language development.”

Although the neurologic outcome for nearly all types of brain injury (with the exception of abuse) is better for children than adults,56,57 trauma is the leading cause of death in children, 58 and the majority of the deaths are attributed to head injury.59 Distinguished professor of pediatric surgery and pediatrics at UTHealth, Charles S. Cox, M.D. launched an innovative study building on a growing portfolio of research using stem cell-based therapies for neurological damage. The study will enroll 10 children ages 18 months to 17 years who have umbilical cord blood banked with CBR and have suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and are enrolled in the study within 6-18 months of sustaining the injury. Read more about the trial here.

“The reason we have become interested in cord blood cells is because of the possibility of autologous therapy, meaning using your own cells. And the preclinical models have demonstrated some really fascinating neurological preservation effects to really support these Phase 1 trials,” says Charles S. Cox, M.D., principle investigator of the trial. “There’s anecdotal experience in other types of neurological injuries that reassures us in terms of the safety of the approach and there are some anecdotal hints at it being beneficial in certain types of brain injury.”

Georgia Health Sciences University (GHSU) Focuses on Cerebral Palsy

At the GHSU in Augusta, Dr. James Carroll, professor and chief of pediatric neurology, embarked on the first FDA-regulated clinical trial to determine whether an infusion of stem cells from a child’s own umbilical cord blood can improve the quality of life for children with cerebral palsy. The study will include 40 children whose parents have stored their cord blood at CBR and meet inclusion criteria.

“Using a child’s own stem cells as a possible treatment is the safest form of stem cell transplantation because it carries virtually no threat of immune system rejection,” said Dr. Carroll. “Our focus on cerebral palsy breaks new ground in advancing therapies to change the course of these kinds of brain injury—a condition for which there is currently no cure.”

Cerebral palsy, caused by a brain injury or lack of oxygen in the brain before birth or during the first few years of life, can impair movement, learning, hearing, vision and cognitive skills. Two to three children in 1,000 are affected by it, according to the Centers for Disease Control.60

Cord Blood Stem Cell Infusions Move From the Lab to the Clinic

These multi-year studies are a first step to move promising pre-clinical or animal research of cord blood stem cells into clinical trials in patients. Through the CBR Center for Regenerative Medicine, CBR will continue to partner with physicians who are interested in advancing cellular therapies in regenerative applications.

“The benefits of cord blood stem cells being very young, easy to obtain, unspecialized cells which have had limited exposure to environmental toxins or infectious diseases and easy to store for long terms without any loss of function, make them an attractive source for cellular therapy researchers today,” adds Brown. “We are encouraged to see interest from such diverse researchers from neurosurgeons to endocrinologists and cardiac specialists.”