Watching their child take his or her first step is a milestone for many parents, but for the mother and father of someone who has cerebral palsy, it can feel like the first step in a new direction. Cerebral palsy, called CP for short, is the most common motor-function disability in children
, affecting approximately one in 323. Caused by damage to or abnormal development of the brain, cerebral palsy takes its toll on movement and posture but can also cause intellectual disability, seizures, and problems hearing, seeing, and speaking. Through intense and long-lasting physical therapy treatments, more than half of people with cerebral palsy are able to gain the ability to walk independently.
This is where one of our favorite cord blood researchers is once again making headway. Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg and a team of researchers at Duke University Medical Center are testing the ability of cord blood stem cells to help the brain heal after injury. Results of their double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized crossover study for cerebral palsy are in, and the results speak for themselves:
Of the 63 children between ages one and six involved in the trial, those who received cord blood had "statistically significant changes in their motor function ... more than 30 percent above where they were predicted to be without cord blood therapy."
They also performed a connectivity analysis via MRI on some of the children. The three scans on top were from children who received cord blood stem cells, and the red shows a significant increase in neural connections. This is in comparison with the lower three scans from children who did not receive cord blood, did not make new make new neural fibers and did not show an increase in function.
Therapy in motion
A brain scan probably means more for scientists than the average person, but it's the accompanying video that can show everyone how much of an impact cord blood could have on the treatment of cerebral palsy. This video vividly illustrates the power of stem cells and cord blood and the positive impact they can have. Beginning at 18 minutes into Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg's presentation, the video shows two clips: the first of a small child with CP who was dependent on a walker and braces for walking. The second shows same little boy one year after recieving a cord blood transfusion able to walk steadily and independently.
At the end of her presentation, Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg sums up the hope that lies in cord blood to treat cerebral palsy and so much more:
"So I will summarize by just saying the cord blood journey is 27 years young," said Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg. "We know how to bank cord blood better than we used to. We can manipulate in ways we couldn't in the past, and I think that the use of cord blood in cell therapies and regenerative medicine as an emerging field now has enormous potential and will be one of the true big advances in the next ten years."