Earlier this year, we wrote about a boy from Detroit who was one of the first children in the world to be part of a study in which his own stem cells were used (saved from his umbilical cord blood at birth) to repair his brain cell damage caused by cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy is a serious health problem caused by brain damage during pregnancy, delivery, or the immediate postnatal period. It affects brain and nervous system functions such as thinking, hearing, seeing, learning and movement. In animal models, stem cell treatment has proven effective in restoring injured organs and tissues. In the animal brain, the potential of stem cells for self-renewal and differentiation translates into substantial brain protection and regeneration.
Cord blood (from which stem cells are taken) is also a promising therapy for children. The current state of clinical trials for this therapy, however, can be very confusing. There are a number of clinics inside and outside the U.S. offering stem cell therapy for cerebral palsy. Unregulated clinics outside of North America are offering stem cell transplants; however, these clinics have shown no scientific proof that their procedures offer any effect beyond placebo effects and / or normal development. Medical researchers with the highest credentials are cautioning parents that stem cell treatment is in its infancy; its benefits in humans are unproven, and “treatments” can actually harm a child. Currently, there are only two institutions in the U.S. conducting carefully designed research trials: Duke University Medical Center and Georgia Regents University / Medical College of Georgia. The research on stem cell treatment for cerebral palsy is moving full speed ahead at these universities, and both are still recruiting subjects whose parents saved their cord blood.
WHAT IS CORD BLOOD?
Cord blood comes from the umbilical cord and placenta after a baby is born. The blood has an abundancy of unique cells that cannot be found anywhere else. According to the primary investigator of the study at Duke, cord blood has enormous potential for use in regenerative medicine. Cord blood cells cross the blood brain barrier and migrate to the brain. They decrease inflammation and stimulate repair and regeneration of injured cells.
Other key points regarding stem cell use for children with cerebral palsy include the following:
- Transplanting stem cells into the brain could support and / or replace deteriorating brain tissue during the process of white matter damage in cerebral palsy.
- Animal models used in research on cerebral palsy have shown that many types of stem cells can be used to reduce damage and return motor function after brain injury.
- Stem cell transplantation would probably have to be performed within the window of time between the first appearance of injury and irreparable loss of neurons.
Indeed, stem cells therapy for cerebral palsy appears to have much promise. The links below provide useful information for parents interested in enrolling their children in the studies.
Contact and general information about the cerebral palsy stem cell trial at Duke University can be found here: http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT01147653?term=NCT01147653&rank=1.
Information for the study at Georgia Regents University can be found here: http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT01072370.