Cerebral palsy (CP) describes a condition caused by childhood brain trauma. The damage can occur in the womb, during birth, or during the first few years of life. There are a host of different causes, ranging from a difficult or premature birth to genetic mutations.
There is currently no cure, although quite a bit of time and money is being spent hunting for a cure. The disorder often affects sufferer’s brain and nervous system. Developing brain cells won’t mature properly after certain injuries occur. Motor problems are common because patients often have damaged corticospinal tracts.
Some researchers believe that stem cell therapy could provide relief to CP patients if not an outright cure. The regenerative therapy uses stem cells to replace the body’s injured tissue. Scientists can manipulate the cells into expressing themselves a certain way.
A large body of evidence indicates that stem cells are useful. However, most of the treatments are still experimental.
Stem Cell Therapy: What are Researchers Investigating?
Studies show that stem cells transplanted directly into the patient’s brain can induce functional improvements. A Kids Brain Health Network research team found that injecting stem cells directly into animal brains as a model of how CP patients might benefit. They’re particularly interested in the cells’ effect on old injuries. Can stem cells be used to treat chronic problems?
The therapy isn’t perfect. Pluripotent stem cells, a type that can differentiate into any type of cell, have been associated with tumors. Other types of stem cells sometimes die when they’re transplanted into their new environment.
In April 2017, a study titled “Outcomes of autologous bone marrow mononuclear cells for cerebral palsy: an open label uncontrolled clinical trial” was published. This trial looked at the efficacy of injecting stem cells directly into the CP patient’s spine.
The study authors report that after two rounds of injections patients report feeling much better. The results weren’t dependent on the patient’s sex, age, or the severity of their illness.
“Based on the results of this study, we can conclude that autologous BMMNCs (bone marrow mononuclear cells) transplantation appears to be a safe and effective therapy for patients with cerebral palsy related to oxygen deprivation,” the authors wrote. “Further studies are needed to examine the optimal regimen for this therapy and its long-term effect, ideally in double-blind controlled trials.”
In January 2018, a South African toddler named Thermishaa Soman was treated for CP. Her medical team extracted stem cells from her bone marrow and then reinserted them into her spine. The project was managed by Indian group Advancells. The little girl improved dramatically. Before her treatment, she could barely move. Her fingers were permanently clenched into fists. Now, she has the mobility of a healthier 4-year-old old.
Stem Cell Therapy and Infants with Cerebral Palsy
Stem cell treatments might be particularly useful for newborns and infants diagnosed with CP due to a perinatal injury (PBI). The therapy can repair the damage as well as stimulate fresh neural growth. PBI that leads to CP causes significant injuries.
Researchers often use stem cells from the patient’s own umbilical cord. One study found that children who were treated with umbilical stem cells showed massive improvements.
“We were able to look at the motor tracks, which are the nerve connections that control motor function, and we were able to show that children who had improvement in function also had either repair or development of new motor tracks in the area of the deficit,” the study’s author wrote.
One child in the study improved so much that he no longer shows traces of the disease.
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What Types of Stem Cells are Cerebral Palsy Interested In?
Researchers are looking into multiple different stem cell types including mesenchymal stem cells (MCS), embryonic stem cells, and induced pluripotent stem cells. MCS seem to hold some of the most promise.
According to Dr. Luigi Titomanlio, “human cord blood cells and mesenchymal stem cells (MCS) may be the most promising stem cells, as they are effective and potentially available for human studies. Human cord blood stem cells have advantages over MCS that may support their use for neonatal insults.”
Other researchers are going down other avenues.
Challenges Associated with Stem Cell Therapy
Stem cell therapy is still highly experimental. There is a lot of hope that the treatments will prove to be revolutionary but the research is still in its infancy. CP patients who are interested in stem cell treatments can seek out clinical trials.
One of the bigger risks associated with the treatment is tumor formations. Stem cells can’t be removed once they’re injected into the body. If the batch turns faulty, there’s no way to reverse it. Scientists are trying to find a way to reduce the risk.
Stem cell therapy could change medicine if the studies prove to be effective. CP, and other diseases, do not respond well to traditional medications. Stem cells could be the key to finding a cure. Even if a complete cure isn’t possible, stem cells could lead to small improvements in the quality of life of CP patients.
Researchers are still delving into the possible benefits. It’s important to keep your expectations in line as a patient. No one should expect stem cell therapy to cure their disease. Researchers believe that the medical community is still years away from creating a treatment that could be offered to the public at large.
Stem Cell Clinics
The world is crammed with stem cell clinics. Some are far more reputable than others. Clinics in the west tend to be more regulated than those in South America, South Asia, and Africa. The act of travelling abroad in search of cheap stem cell clinics has been dubbed “stem cell tourism.”
Patients should be very wary of visiting such places. If the clinic is promising you something that seems to be too good to be true, be very careful. Stem cells aren’t a miracle treatment.
If you’re truly interested in stem cell therapy, research legitimate clinical trials. Your health is very important, especially if you’re suffering from something like CP.
The medical community has a lot of hope for CP patients who undergo stem cell therapy. Although none of the therapies have worked out perfectly yet, there is a myriad of clinical trials currently underway and more in the pipeline.
Research indicates that the treatments can help CP patients at all stages of their illness. There is particular interest in treating the disorder in newborns, in order to give the patients the greatest quality of life. But that doesn’t mean that adult patients are out of luck.