FDA recently approved a trial to enable researchers to determine whether stem cells obtained from umbilical cord blood at birth can cure autism. The trial’s goal is to evaluate whether stem cell’s therapy has any effect on language and behavioral difficulties experienced by autistic children. The rationale to pursue this trial was linked to the encouraging results of unpublished data examining the potential of stem cell therapy in children with cerebral palsy.
While stem cell therapy has been previously used to treat immunologic disorders, cancer, and Parkinson’s disease, autism has been the area of recent scientific interests because of some encouraging results.
Autism is a pervasive and highly variable neurodevelopmental disorder that affects the information processing in the brain by altering how nerve cells and neurons organize and connect. About nine in 1,000 children in the US are diagnosed with ASD (autism-spectrum disorders). Half of individuals with autism does not develop enough natural speech to meet their communication needs.
There is an ongoing research in Europe, which evaluates stem cell’s therapy for autism, but this trial is the first to use the child’s umbilical cord blood as the source of stem cell. Thirty children will participate in this placebo-controlled trial organized by Cord Blood Registry.
The hallmark feature of ASD is impaired social interaction and focus only to one item for long periods of time. While the child with autism may have normal development, it may ultimately withdraw and become indifferent to friendly engagement. They fail to respond to their names and avoid eye contact with other people. Their difficulty in interpreting facial expressions or tone of voice is indicative of their lack of understanding of social cues.
Since the 1980s, the number of people with autism has dramatically increased because of the changes in diagnostic practices. The complexity of the genetics of autism has a strong genetic basis, but it is unclear whether it is caused by rare mutations or combinations of common genetic variants.
Stem cell treatment for autism targets the areas of the brain regulating attention, concentration and speech. It is a novel approach based on the stem cell’s ability to improve blood and oxygen flow to the brain, stimulates the formation of new arteries, and replaces damaged neurons.
According to the CDC data, 1 in 88 children are diagnosed with autism. The cause was presumed to be multifactorial and signs are noted in early childhood related abnormalities in language, behavior, and social development. The goal of this research is to establish the role of stem cell therapy in autism spectrum disorder. Although it could be years before preliminary results to be available, scientists are taking mammoth steps to determine whether stem cell from umbilical cord blood can help treat autism.
Written by: Janet Grace Ortigas