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Friday, November 20, 2009

Stem cells used to cure hearing loss

I've been keeping mostly silent on the issue of stem cells lately. I usually take a "wait-and-see" approach to technologies that I don't fully understand, especially tech that generates intense emotional reactions, such as things that reduce a person's privacy or makes it impossible for me to enjoy music that I own on various devices.

Now, I'm not a geneticist, but I have been getting quite a bit of education regarding genes lately. On top of that, I really like the field of biotech and have been watching it extensively since I was in college. Biotech is one of those fields to be in right now - there are a whole host of factors such as an aging 1st world population, lower birth rates, trends towards recurring treatments instead of one-time cures, and more and more research being done by for-profit corps instead of research universities. If you want a good paying career, biotech's where you want to be.

Over the summer, I participated in the Hearing Loss Association of America national conference. It was an exceptionally enlighting conference - I blogged pretty much every day I was there. The landmark presentation was on hearing loss treatments by stem cells. This was a widely attended seminar - the enormous room was pretty full, I'd estimate at least 500 people attended. I took notes, and the consensus of the 4 presenters was that it'd be at least 25 or so years off before we'd see viable treatments. That prompted a whole line of HOT, aggressive questioning to the panel - "where's a clinical trial I can join now?" "if I pay you will you let me in?" "how soon will you start a trial?" "what's taking so long?!"

Keep in mind, only animal testing is going on with regeneration. Chicken and mice are the two main test subjects at this time. Human testing in the US is not expected to happen any time soon. Funding is a major issue, as always.

However - after this summer, a South Korean company released a video out onto the web. It supposedly showcased a certain University of Arizona student who had lost her hearing 3 years ago. This video touted an unbelievable amount of success, "90% hearing improvement in one ear, 50% in the other!" Never mind that percentages aren't supposed to be used as a way to gauge hearing loss, but that video was SLICK. Infomercial slick, I tell ya. But where were the papers, the journals, the peer reviewed submissions? There are none yet. Clearly, this suspicion is shared by many others with hearing loss, and HLAA hosted a webchat last night.

The speaker was one of the presenters from over the summer, Dr. Douglas Cotanche. He's got more than 25 years in the field of hearing loss and regenerative treatments with Boston University. An excerpt I'll quote from the webchat:

Question: There has been an individual promoting this youtube video on hair cell regeneration as being proof that [stem cell treatment for hearing loss] is happening now. Is this true?

Where should we go for credible updates on hair cell regeneration?

Dr._Cotanche: Hi,
Thank you for pointing out this video. I am very suspicious of this testimony because they give no details of what therapy they are talking about. And when I go to the company website there is no information on this case or for using stem cells to treat hearing loss. I would be very cautious about believing that testimonial, even if both her parents are MDs. They need to provide more scientific data and show it happens more than once to demonstrate that the therapy she got was actually responsible for her recovery of her hearing. There may have been other things going on or other therapies she got that contributed to the recovery.
A good resource for reliable information would be the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communicative Disorders ( at NIH in Bethesda, MD.

I'm more willing to believe a presenter that I've met in person and can review his research at length than some video that plays like a TV advertisement.

Other strikes against the stem cell treatment announcement:

1) The only news release I can find about it is actually just a press release. People are misquoting that this press release (which is released from the company itself, not a news site) as "being reported by Reuters, a reputable news company" which is NOT the case. Reuters is simply reposting what was written by the company itself, no verification or reporting is done by anyone. I know this for a fact because my company has done the same - put out product press releases and Reuters picked it up. You can tell by the "PR Newswire" heading.

2) Prior to the video being released, quite a number of people were already contacting that stem cell company months before due to rumors being spread that they had proof of treatment. That gives the company an incentive to create advertising to drive more business to them. A number of statements I caught at the HLAA conference were basically "I would give anything for this to be cured!" Who wouldn't want to take advantage of bilking you out of your hard earned money without you seeing proof of success?

3) People are throwing themselves at this and believing there will can be no downside. "Either I'll get some hearing, or nothing, but I'll keep my residual hearing." Bold statements when there have been no clinical trials and cases are starting to come out stating that yes, even stem cells can cause tumors:

So, while I want to give stem cells their chance to prove themselves, this is one organization that isn't gonna get me as a customer until they give us verifiable results. I sure hope they don't start taking peoples money and run. Be safe!


  1. This makes total sense. The lack of verification was bothering me a lot. Something else nobody seemed to be talking about was hearing loss due to malformation of any part of the ear, and genetic hearing loss. How can stem cells fix anything if they simply re-create the same error that occured the first time? That will require correction of the genetic error before anything can be regrown. Stem cells are the future, but they are not here yet.

  2. “The November Special Edition clears some confusion, has a tale of two Chloe’s, plus:

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    * More on Placebos
    * Parent’s Love Battles Ignorance
    * Niko’s Autism
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  3. is just another personal blog from Don Margolis, who touts that Adult Stem Cells are "the greatest medicine known to humankind!"

    Yeah, that's a real neutral source. His agenda is to push stem cells. He founded "TheraVitae" and "VesCell" in Thailand, which are stem cell companies that he retired from but still retains profits from operating.

    On top of that, the article you quote is simply a rewording of the RNL Bio Press Release - with ZERO new content or insight. No journals, peer reviews, or science publications have been put out.

  4. Autologous or cord blood stem cells don't cause tumors, just embryonic/fetal stem cells which should never be used. I was in contact with the stem cell center that treated Chloe and I have all the evidence. I know tons of people who are forgetting about CI and are getting stem cells very soon.

    You are right, there won't be human testing in the USA for several years, but then they are way behind in technology. Stem cell labs in other countries have been treating hundreds of people for other conditions and they have begun to treat hearing loss. Ill be blogging about it when I get treated.

  5. You know "tons of people" who are forgetting about CIs? Sound like the same number of people I heard at HLAA who lined up at the microphone demanding that the stem cell researchers start opening up their testing to human trials. They were even saying "if it's $25 million that you need, I'll get you the $25 million."

    Seems like you have a lot invested in this untested treatment working for you and will pay through the nose for a chance it's true. Whatever floats your boat, man. You gonna put your life on hold for this?

    You'll have to consider the possibility that it won't work for you. What then?

  6. Anyone whos willing to spend $25m is far more "crazy" the cost is $30k or so and they can get stem cells overseas. Life is all about risks as we have discussed. You took a risk with CI, ill be taking a risk with stem cells. If they don't work, oh well I will keep making do with what I hear with HAs. I can't be scared or ill never get anywhere. I never know if stem cells will work for me till I try it. Thanks friend for the discussions on risks.

  7. What risk? Your ONLY reason for deciding on the stem cells is because you perceive there to be NO RISK!

    You have NO FACTS to back up that there'll be no harm to you, no side effects, no long term benefits. Clearly, you believe there will be none, which is why you've settled it - Stem Cells in 2011!

    There's a difference between taking a risk and falling for a potential con. One's got reams of evidence and controls and research and publications behind it. The other... well, you've got a slick ad campaign and a promise you'll get better for the low, low price of your life savings.

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  9. I am hearing many thought about that procedure to cure hearing loss. I can say that it is one of the most effective ways. Many clients have proven that.

  10. There is no doubt that medical science has achieved a number of mile stones, especially at the time of emergency but at the same time it is also true that its medication has a number of side effects. So at that moment stem cell therapy can be considered as a perfect solution that to without any medication. Thank you.

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