Preserved Umbilical Cord Blood May Help Children With Cerebral Palsy

New research published in Stem Cells Translational Medicine suggests that umbilical cord blood infusion may improve brain connectivity and gross motor function in children with cerebral palsy.

Cerebral palsy is a motor function disorder that is usually caused by an injury during or near the time of birth, such as hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), a brain hemorrhage, or an umbilical cord complication. There is currently no cure for cerebral palsy, but there is ongoing research that focuses on several treatments that may help reverse brain damage and improve motor function. One such treatment is stem cell therapy.

Stem cells can be found in umbilical cord blood. These cells facilitate repair of damaged tissues and organs, including the brain. Previous research on animal models with brain damage has shown that administration of human umbilical cord blood improves motor function.

Building off of that knowledge, Jessica Sun and colleagues hypothesized that IV infusion of autologous cord blood (meaning blood obtained from one’s own preserved umbilical cord) could increase motor abilities in children with cerebral palsy. First, Sun et al. demonstrated safety of this treatment in 184 children; then they conducted a trial comparing the effectiveness of autologous cord blood infusion with a placebo procedure. The treatment subjects were further divided into low and high dose groups.

Both treatment groups and placebo patients had gains in motor function beyond what would be expected based on the GMFM-66 (a scale for measuring gross motor function). The authors note that families who are interested in participating in clinical trials may be highly motivated to improve their children’s abilities and may be more likely to have access to other important resources, which may explain these findings, at least in part.

They did find a statistically significant difference based on dosage. A year after treatment, the high dose group had better motor function and whole brain connectivity than the low dose or placebo group. While this is a promising result, the authors mention that they were contacted by many interested families whose children had to be excluded from the study because their umbilical cord blood had not been preserved when they were born. In the future, they plan to investigate whether cord blood from a donor could also be a safe and effective treatment, in the hopes that more children could benefit from stem cell therapy.