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What is stem cell therapy for cerebral palsy?

Over the past decade, there have been over three dozen clinical trials treating cerebral palsy with stem cells. Several publications in peer-reviewed medical journals have demonstrated that cerebral palsy patients who received stem cells had a significant improvement compared to patients in control groups. We have created a spreadsheet that provides a detailed comparison of a few leading studies.

Despite these successful reports, no one understands the “mechanism of action” by which the stem cells provide a benefit.  Both cord blood stem cells and cord tissue MSC are known to suppress inflammation. The MSC are particularly effective at suppressing auto-immune reactions. Researchers at Duke have argued that a trace component of the cells in cord blood may enable re-myelination of neurons in the brain.

It is presumed that stem cell therapy probably also benefits other conditions that are similar to cerebral palsy, such as hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy. Bear in mind these benefits were proven for groups of patients and individual outcomes will vary. While some children have had dramatic improvements, for example Adriana or Tomas, others have not improved at all.

On the basis of this evidence, Duke University has received permission from the FDA to offer expanded access to cord blood therapy for cerebral palsy and other pediatric brain injuries.  Any family that has a child with an acquired (not hereditary) brain injury, and has that child’s cord blood or a sibling’s cord blood in storage, is eligible for this therapy. Unfortunately, this program is so popular that the waiting list is over ten thousand children and growing.

There are many open questions about stem cell therapy for cerebral palsy that have not yet been answered by the existing research. It is not clear what type of stem cells are the “best” for this therapy, and there is also some debate over the optimum method of injecting the stem cells (intravenous versus intrathecal route of administration).

An important caveat for parents is that while stem cell therapy may improve a child’s cerebral palsy symptoms, it is not a cure all and does not replace other supports, such as physical and occupational therapy, tutoring, etc.

Please remember that the website of Parent’s Guide to Cord Blood Foundation is not a substitute for medical advice from a physician.

References:
Follow the links in the spreadsheet download