April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day and as such it’s a terrific opportunity to “Shine a Light On Autism,” by spreading awareness of the disease and some of the advances being made in treating it.
There are approximately 2 million people in the United States with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in differing degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. Currently, though there are treatment and education approaches that can address some of the challenges associated with ASD, but there is no cure. But there is hope as new stem cell treatments are having a demonstrable positive impact on treating patients with autism.
In a clinical trial completed in August, 2013, 37 children with autism were divided into three groups: 14 subjects received Cord Blood Mononuclear Cells (CBMNC) transplantation and rehabilitation therapy; 9 subjects received both CBMNC and Umbilical Cord-Derived Mesenchymal Stem Cell (UCMSC) transplantation and rehabilitation therapy; and 14 subjects received only rehabilitation therapy. The investigators hypothesized that infusion of a patient's own umbilical cord blood cells (UCB) can offer neural protection/repair in the brain and reduction of inflammation associated with this disorder.[i]
Umbilical cord blood cells are collected without risk to the mother or baby from the placenta, which is otherwise discarded as medical waste after a baby is born. After collection, the cells can be frozen and stored for future use in blood stem cell transplantation or cellular therapies.
The results went a long way in confirming the original hypothesis. The results showed that transplantation of CBMNCs demonstrated efficacy compared to the control group; however, the combination of CBMNCs and UCMSCs showed larger therapeutic effects than the CBMNC transplantation alone.
More Trials and Research Underway
In June 2014, Duke Medicine was awarded $15 million to support an innovative research program that explores the use of umbilical cord blood cells to treat autism, stroke, cerebral palsy and related brain disorders. The project is headed up by Joanne Kurtzberg, MD, chief scientific and medical officer of Duke’s Robertson Cell and Translational Therapy Program, and Geraldine Dawson, PhD, director of the Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development and Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.
The project will consist of a series of clinical trials using umbilical cord blood cells to treat a total of 390 children and adults with autism, 100 children with cerebral palsy and 90 adults with stroke. Based on previous research, Kurtzberg and Dawson hypothesize that cord blood may promote repair of dysfunctional or damaged areas of the brain.
The initial phase of the program begun in June 2014 is a preliminary trial involving 20 pediatric subjects with autism using their own banked cord blood.[ii] The study will measure more than a dozen results change in repetitive behavior, change in sensory experience, change in expressive one-word picture vocabulary, and change in attention to social stimuli.
Dr. Kurtzberg and Dr. Dawson hope to develop cell-based therapies that can potentially restore brain function in people with the disorders, for which there currently are no cures. If successful, the study could identify therapies for further evaluation in clinical trials to potentially decrease disabilities and improve the quality of life for millions of children and adults.
At Cryo-Cell International, we are lighting it up blue to support autism research and to show people with ASD that they are not alone. We hope and support the continuation of research using umbilical cord blood and cord tissue stem cells to treat not only autism, but other neurological conditions as well. So don your blue today.
[i] Transplantation of human cord blood mononuclear cells and umbilical cord-derived mesenchymal stem cells in autism. LV, YT. Y Zhang, M. Liu, JNQuiwaxi, P. Ashwood, SC Cho, Y. Huan, RC Ge, XW Chen, ZJ Wang, BJ Kim, and X. Hu. National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 27 August. 2013. Web. 02 Apr. 2015.
[ii] Autologous Umbilical Cord Blood Infusion for Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Please refer to this study by its ClinicalTrials.gov identifier: NCT02176317