Stem cell therapy and autism

Around 700,000 people in the UK are on the autism spectrum, that’s over 1 in 100 [1]
Boys are almost 5x more likely to be diagnosed with autism [1]
Older parents are more likely to have a child with autism [1]
Autism is a hidden disability. If someone is autistic, you cannot always tell [2]
Autism does not only affect children; autistic children grow up to become autistic adults [2]
It costs the UK £ 32bn a year to treat children and adults with autism, cover lost income and provide care and support[2]

people in the UK
are on the autism spectrum

What is autism?

Autism, also known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a lifelong developmental disorder that impacts how individuals experience the world around them. As a spectrum disorder, autism varies in severity but is generally characterised by difficulty with social interaction, communication and by repetitive/restricted patterns of behaviour.

Physically, autism affects children in two primary ways: reduced blood flow to the brain and immune system suppression. Reduced blood flow to the brain – known as hypoperfusion – results in limited oxygen supply which causes brain cells to become inflamed. This in turn creates a chemical imbalance in the brain, damaging the mitochondria and connections in the brain.

The second physical effect, immune system suppression, means that the child’s immune system doesn’t respond to stimuli. This causes chronic inflammation, autoimmune reactions and possible developmental issues with the nervous system.

Although no direct cause of autism has yet been found, current research is getting closer to identifying it. So far, it is believed that genetic and environmental factors many cause these changes in brain and immune system development.

To help treat ASD patients and support their families, research is exploring the use of stem cell therapy as a pioneering breakthrough. The ambitions of stem cell therapy are to trigger brain development and regulate immune system functionality through tissue cell regeneration.

Stem cell therapy research

Stem cell therapy is increasingly recognised as a feasible strategy to helping people with autism. This is based on stem cells’ distinctive capacity to affect metabolism, the immune system and restore damaged cells and tissues, including body organs and structures.

The latest clinical trials using stem cell therapy, including the April 2017 Duke University Study[3], have shown promise. However, all researchers and other professionals stress that therapy is still in the early phases and much more research is required.

Following the Duke University study’s original Phase I trial into the application of cord blood stem cells, scientists are now embarking on a bigger Phase II trial. This will determine whether the original proposal that cord blood stem cell therapy would benefit autistic children can be replicated.

Geraldine Dawson PhD, co-lead investigator and director of the Duke Centre for Autism and Brain Development, said about the problems that autism brings to parents:
“One of the most challenging things for parents of children with autism is that there is so much information out there that is unreliable…After we’ve concluded the Phase II trial, we will have much more information and should be able to better characterize the potential for this therapy.”[4]

Another trial led by Dr Chez, director of paediatric neurology at Sutter Medical Center, is also investigating the effects of cord blood stem cells:
“Cord blood stem cells may offer ways to modulate or repair the immune systems of these patients, which would also improve language and some behaviour in children who have no obvious reason to have become autistic”.[5]

Our stem cell releases for autism

To date, Future Health Biobank has released four cord blood stem cell samples for clients. The samples were used in therapy at the Duke Centre University clinical trial. These samples were all stored after birth from the child’s umbilical cord at our dedicated laboratory.

As an alternative to cord blood stem cell banking, you can also store your child’s milk teeth using our dental pulp banking service. Stem cells within dental pulp also have the regenerative potential to treat autism and other tissue-related disorders.

Many parents and healthcare professionals approach us seeking information for children that are diagnosed with ASD. Our guidance for therapy page provides useful links to the latest developments in stem cell therapies for autism.[6]

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