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Cancer, In the News, Neuroscience, Parenting, Patient Care, Pediatrics, Research, Stanford News, Technology

New hope for hearing loss with chemotherapy

Chemo is bad stuff. Not only does it make you feel like crap, but it can damage your heart, kidneys, and nerves. Some chemo drugs even harm your hearing, a little known fact I learned in pharmacology class.

That fact came back to me as I took my friend who was dying from brain cancer to get her hearing checked. Why did she bother- was it denial, or her attention to detail? Whatever, I was there for her. She died soon after, of a cancer that is most common in children. Like most children with that cancer, she was getting a chemo drug that damages the inner cells of the ear, the ones that bring sounds to the brain.

In adults, who can compensate anyway with defects in hearing (don’t we all, as we age?), its just one more thing to deal with in cancer. For kids who haven’t even learned to talk, hearing loss can hamper language and limit potential. And kids are much more sensitive to the damage done by cisplatin and related chemotherapies. So notes Kay Chang, MD, an ear, nose, and throat specialist who has worked for six years to revise the way hearing loss is quantified. His new method, now validated in a published study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, will help oncologists and audiologists collaborate better to know how much hearing is lost in the efforts to save young lives, and help prepare children for life with proper hearing aids.

Chang notes that heart or kidney damage will limit aggressive chemo efforts. With hearing loss, the health team will “press on” to save a child. Nevertheless, there are ways to juggle how the drugs are given: perhaps by giving divided doses, or optimizing use of the existing protective agent-perhaps, even find new ones. With this improved strategy, future studies should be able to help preserve hearing in the youngest cancer patients.

Applied Biotechnology, Genetics, In the News, Neuroscience, Pediatrics, Research, Stanford News

Study suggests new strategy for spinal muscular atrophy

Some little souls are here with us for just a few months, but leave lasting impressions. A Nature Biotechnology article this week gives yet another bit of hope for families whose babies have spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), one of those rare diseases you probably never heard of.

I’d heard of it because a family in my town had a girl born with the disease who never made it to her first birthday. Then my mom got Lou Gehrig’s disease, and, as I worked with her and then with the ALS Association, the efforts to address SMA sounded more familiar – both diseases destroy the motor neurons, which allow us to move. So now, in mice who closely match the human disease, researchers have shown that a particular gene therapy sustains life beyond what is expected, and beyond what was achieved before. Its typical for test therapies to add a few weeks in both Lou Gehrig’s and in SMA. But this time, Brian Kaspar, PhD, who has worked on both diseases, batted out of the park, adding over 200 days to these small mammals normally short lifespans.

Mixing the two diseases as I’ve done is intentional. Anyone who has watched either disease sees that there is something similar going on. Years ago, while observing at the Stanford neonatal intensive care unit, I heard about afflicted babies. Now, back at work reporting at Stanford again, one of the first things I am thinking about is SMA – and am glad to hear that researchers here are also hard at work on this problem. A trial continues to test a therapy. One day, maybe both of these problems will be helped.

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