Stem cell therapy and cerebral palsy
1 in 400
babies born in the UK
have cerebral palsy
What is cerebral palsy?Cerebral palsy (CP) is a group of lifelong neurological disorders that all affect a person’s movement, balance and coordination. It is caused by brain damage or lack of development that occurs before, during or soon after birth. This can be a result of lack of oxygen or blood to the brain, an infection or stroke while the baby is in the womb.
Because brain damage varies in severity from patient to patient, so do the symptoms of cerebral palsy. The most obvious ones to look out for in infancy are delayed developmental milestones, stiff or floppy muscles, muscle spasms, walking on tip-toes and hand tremors.
It isn’t clear what the root cause of CP is, but prematurity, low birth weight and the mother being over the age of 35 can increase the risk.
Children with CP may have learning disabilities, eyesight or hearing problems, spine curvature, communication difficulties and various other symptoms. Sometimes these can trigger additional conditions and diseases; 4 in 10 children with CP also have epilepsy and 1 in 10 are on the autistic spectrum. The types and degree of symptoms categorise CP into four main types:
Spastic – muscles are stiff and tight, making movement difficult
Dyskinetic – muscles switch between stiff and floppy, causing uncontrollable body movements and spasms
Ataxic – the person has balance and coordination problems, causing shaky movement and tremors
Mixed – a mixture of more than one of the above
Stem cell therapy research
Although there is no cure, therapy using cord blood stem cells is proving to be an exciting and fast-developing treatment possibility for those with cerebral palsy.
A widely publicized clinical trial by Dr Joanne Kurtzberg at Duke University involved infusing doses of cord blood into children with CP, and observed significant improvements in motor function compared to the placebo group.
Following the success of this trial, Dr Kurtzberg is exploring further treatment possibilities with cord blood for a range of brain disorders, after securing a $15 million grant.
Studies in South Korea have also led to the successful treatment of children aged 1 to 6 with CP, using autologous cord blood stem cells. Results showed dramatic improvements in motor function, brain development and cognition.