The past decade has seen an increase in the use of umbilical cord blood for stem cell transplants that can save children with fatal or debilitating diseases.
Cord blood is an excellent source of stem cells. It’s taken from the placenta of healthy newborns and used most often in stem cell transplantations to treat fatal diseases such as cancer, blood disorders and immune deficiencies.
Cord blood also contains other therapeutic cells that researchers believe could influence the formation of new neural connections in children with cerebral palsy.
An infusion of cells from a child’s own umbilical cord blood appears to improve brain connectivity and motor function in children with spastic cerebral palsy, according to a randomized clinical trial.
The placebo-controlled, phase two trial included 63 children with varied types and severities of spastic cerebral palsy, a condition usually caused by brain damage before or at birth.
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,” said senior author Joanne Kurtzberg, M.D., director of Duke’s Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplant Program and the Robertson Clinical and Translational Therapy Program.
“We still have a lot to learn about this therapy so that it can be optimized and accessible to more children with cerebral palsy,” said Kurtzberg, who is also director of the Carolinas Cord Blood Bank at Duke.
Children who have cerebral palsy are expected to gain motor function as they grow and develop and receive traditional therapies, including occupational and physical therapy, said Jessica Sun, M.D., a pediatric hematologist-oncologist at Duke and lead author of the paper.
“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.
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.
Increasingly, research is showing successful outcomes from transplantation of stem cells. The study was published in the journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine.