The NHS defines cerebral palsy as: “a group of lifelong conditions that affect movement and coordination, caused by a problem with the brain that occurs before, during or soon after birth.”
Up until now, there has been no cure for cerebral palsy, but an exciting new study by leading stem cell scientists at Duke University, North Carolina, has successfully used umbilical cord blood to improve motor skills in some children with the condition, leaving specialists optimistic that cord blood stem cells will improve the lives of sufferers in the future.
Symptoms of cerebral palsy
The symptoms of cerebral palsy aren’t usually obvious when a baby is born, but become noticeable during the first two or three years of a child’s life. They can include delays in reaching developmental milestones – such as, not sitting by eight months or not walking by 18 months; seeming too stiff or too floppy; having weak arms or legs or random, uncontrolled movements. A range of other problems, such as swallowing difficulties, vision and speech problems and learning disabilities are also associated with cerebral palsy. The severity of symptoms can vary significantly. Some people only have minor problems, while others may be severely disabled.
Causes of cerebral palsy
Cerebral palsy can occur if a baby’s brain doesn’t develop normally while in the womb, or is damaged during or soon after birth. It may be caused by bleeding in the baby’s brain or reduced blood and oxygen supply to their brain, or by an infection caught by the mother during pregnancy. Meningitis and serious head injuries may cause cerebral palsy but often the cause is unclear.
Treatments for cerebral palsy
Until now, physiotherapy, speech and occupational therapies and medications have been the only treatments available to help people with cerebral palsy to have as normal and independent a life as possible.
Umbilical cord blood used to treat cerebral palsy
An infusion of cord blood stem cells from a child’s own umbilical cord has now been shown to improve brain connectivity and motor function in children with cerebral palsy. The results of a randomized clinical trial published this week by Stem Cells Translational Medicine could transform the lives of those living with the condition.
The placebo-controlled, phase two trial included 63 children with varied types and severities of cerebral palsy. Children who received one intravenous dose of at least 25 million stem cells per kilogram of their body weight saw improvements in motor function a year later. The improvements were greater than those typically observed for children of similar age and condition and exceeded the gains made by children who received a lower dose of cells or a placebo.
We are encouraged by the results of this study, which shows that appropriately dosed infusions of cord blood cells can help lessen symptoms in children with cerebral palsy. (Joanne Kurtzberg, M.D., director of Duke’s Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplant)
“Previous research has indicated it’s safe for children with cerebral palsy to receive an infusion of their own cord blood,” Kurtzberg said. “Now that we have identified a dosing threshold, we are planning additional studies testing the benefits of multiple doses of cells, as well as the use of donor cells for patients whose own cord blood was not banked.”
The therapeutic value of umbilical cord blood
Umbilical cord blood has been found to be a rich source of blood stem cells to treat cancers, neurological disorders and genetic diseases. Cord blood also contains other therapeutic cells that researchers believe could influence the formation of new neural connections in children with cerebral palsy.
In the cerebral palsy trial, Kurtzberg and colleagues tested doses from 10 million cells per kilogram of body weight up to 50 million cells per kilogram, based on the amount and quality of the cord blood each child had in storage. Among the tools used to evaluate the children’s progress were MRI to measure brain connectivity and the Gross Motor Function Measure (GMFM-66), a standardized analysis of a child’s ability to crawl, roll, kneel, and complete other movements based on age and development.
The improvements for children who received doses of at least 25 million cells per kilogram of body weight progressed beyond their expected increases when they were tested a year after infusion.
For each child, the improvements are different and could be subtle, but sometimes even a seemingly small difference is significant. For example, a child’s ability to turn their hand from facing down to facing up can change their ability to hold or grasp something, which can make a big difference in their everyday life. (Jessica Muller Sun, MD. Assistant Professor of Pediatrics)
The study had some limitations, including the requirement that participants have cord blood in storage and be able to travel to Duke, both of which required financial means, the authors said. Being from well-resourced families, most participants were also receiving frequent physical and occupational therapy, Sun said, and those advantages could have influenced the results.
“We are hopeful that cord blood and cell therapy may have a role in treating children with cerebral palsy and brain injury and are encouraged to continue this promising research,” Sun said.
CellPlan supports umbilical cord blood infusion for cerebral palsy
Cord blood stem cells are now used to treat over 80 life-threatening diseases such as leukaemia and neuroblastoma. Lives can be enhanced as well as saved with umbilical cord blood infusions. CellPlan are committed to supporting families and cover the costs of haemopoietic stem cell infusion for the treatment of cerebral palsy as part of registered clinical trial at clinicaltrials.gov.
How to store your baby’s umbilical cord blood and tissue
We partner exclusively with the best cord blood banks in the world; only these blood banks meet our stringent criteria and qualify for our Excel Global Membership Programme. Find out about banking cord blood here.
How to access CellPlan protection
Applying for CellPlan insurance is easy. You can request a quote, brochure, or call back here.
- Sun, J. M., Song, A. W., Case, L. E., Mikati, M. A., Gustafson, K. E., Simmons, R., Goldstein, R., Petry, J., McLaughlin, C., Waters-Pick, B., Chen, L. W., Wease, S., Blackwell, B., Worley, G., Troy, J. and Kurtzberg, J. (2017), Effect of Autologous Cord Blood Infusion on Motor Function and Brain Connectivity in Young Children with Cerebral Palsy: A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial. STEM CELLS Translational Medicine. doi:10.1002/sctm.17-0102
The information in this article is for information only and is not intended to replace the advice of a medical expert. If you have any health concerns you should discuss them with your doctor.