New Updates in Umbilical Cord Therapy for the Treatment of HIE

The standard treatment for hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) in infants is therapeutic hypothermia (TH). TH can have great benefits for babies affected by HIE, but there are certain criteria that must be met first (1):

  • TH must be administered within six hours of birth
  • TH is not appropriate for preterm babies
  • TH is most successful in large hospitals that are fully prepared for emergencies

Because of these limitations, researchers are always looking for new therapies that could be administered. The benefits of stem cell treatments in this arena have long been considered by researchers.

Stem cell use timeline

In stem cell therapy, stem cells (which can can divide into many different kinds of cells) are injected into the injured tissues. This ideally will preserve existing tissue and replace damaged tissue. The benefits of stem cells in general have been apparent for quite some time, but the benefits of one particular type of stem cell, human umbilical cord blood cells, in children who have experienced HIE only became of interest around 2010 (2).

Human umbilical cord therapy employs umbilical cord blood (UCB) cells, which are great sources of progenitor and stem cells (1). In 2013, a large study was done on the benefits of umbilical cord blood therapy for 96 individuals with cerebral palsy between 10 months and 10 years of age (3). UCB therapy was found to produce some improvements in motor and cognitive function, though more research needed.

In 2014, it was confirmed feasible to use UCB cells as part of a treatment for HIE (4). The study stated, however, that umbilical cord therapy as a treatment for HIE required much more research. Later, when used to treat children and adolescents with confirmed cerebral palsy in a 2015 study, umbilical cord therapy improved muscle strength and motor functions within 6 months (1).

Umbilical cord therapy study on rats

In a March of 2019 study of umbilical cord therapy, rat pups with a hypoxic-ischemic brain injury were given UCB intraperitoneally 8 days after birth (1). The rats were then given a cylinder test to check forelimb preference, open field tests to check distance, speed, and time of movements, and negative geotaxis behavioral tests to measure completion of various simple tasks. These tests were administered on the 14th, the 30th, and the 50th days after birth. The umbilical cord therapy improved short and long-term behavioral outcomes. The long-term histological evidence of the brain injury, however, did not change in those treated with this therapy.

It is important to remember that there is no existing cure for HIE. Stem cell therapies like umbilical cord therapy only work to limit the damage caused by HIE. Additionally, it is imperative that patients remember that stem cell therapies are still in clinical trials, so they are not widely accepted as treatments in the U.S. at this time.

About ABC Law Centers

ABC Law Centers was established to focus exclusively on birth injury cases. A “birth injury” is any type of harm to a baby that occurs just before, during, or after birth. This includes issues such as hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), oxygen deprivation, infection, and trauma. While some children with birth injuries make a complete recovery, others develop disabilities such as cerebral palsy and epilepsy.

If a birth injury/subsequent disability could have been prevented with proper care, then it constitutes medical malpractice. Settlements from birth injury cases can cover the costs of lifelong treatment, care, and other crucial resources.

If you believe you may have a birth injury case for your child, please contact us today to learn more. We are happy to talk to you free of any obligation or charge. In fact, clients pay nothing throughout the entire legal process unless we win.

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  1. R., T., Sutherland, E., A., G., J., Paton, B., M. C., McDonald. (2019, March 04). Human Umbilical Cord Therapy Improves Long-Term Behavioral Outcomes Following Neonatal Hypoxic Ischemic Brain Injury. Retrieved March 22, 2019, from
  2. Pimentel-Coelho, PM, et al. Cell Therapy for Neonatal Hypoxic–Ischemic Encephalopathy. Stem Cells and Development. March 2010, 19(3): 299-310. doi:10.1089/scd.2009.0403.
  3. Min, K., Song, J., Kang, J. Y., Ko, J., Ryu, J. S., Kang, M. S., Jang, S. J., Kim, S. H., Oh, D., Kim, M. K., Kim, S. S., … Kim, M. (2012). Umbilical cord blood therapy potentiated with erythropoietin for children with cerebral palsy: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Stem cells (Dayton, Ohio), 31(3), 581-91.
  4. Cotten, CM, et al. Feasibility of Autologous Cord Blood Cells for Infants with Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy. The Journal of Pediatrics
    Volume 164, Issue 5, May 2014, Pages 973–979.e1.


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