Love. It is something you express to your children. You kiss boo-boos, you give hugs after a long day and you hold their hands just a little bit longer than necessary when crossing the street. You also probably tell them that you love them every chance you get. Love is something your children will show and tell you in reciprocation more and more as they grow older. (Although the law of diminishing returns may apply in the teen years.) Displays of affection can do wonders to how you feel, but for the mother and father of an autistic child, it may seem like they can never give that gift to their child, or receive it in return.
An avoidance of social touch and an inability to understand or take part in verbal and nonverbal social communication are just two of autism's characteristics, which are often grouped into bigger areas of concern like overall behavior, social interactions, language development and sensory sensitivity. Bearing a child with autism is a growing concern for many parents as the number of people it affects has risen over the years. While this increase may be contributed to how autism is diagnosed, it could be that other factors are increasing its prevalence. As of now, autism affects one in 42 boys and one in 68 children in general. Current therapies and medications for autism are designed to treat some of the specific symptoms of the condition, but scientists have yet to figure out how to move a child off the spectrum.
Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg and a team of researchers at Duke University Medical Center are bringing new hope to the treatment of autism. They recently concluded a preliminary clinical trial with 25 autistic children ages two through six who were infused with their own cord blood and followed for a year. The results are exciting, enabling them to move to a full-blown double-blind, placebo-controlled phase two study. If the results follow what they have been seeing so far, it will spawn a better new way to treat autism.
Its phase one trial included two evaluations: one at six months and another at 12 months. At the six-month evaluations, between 60 and 70 percent of the children showed improvements in aspects of their autism including sensory behaviors, receptive and expressive communication, repetitive and manipulative behaviors, and social withdrawal.
Statistics and charts may not mean much to a layperson, but the videos that Dr. Kurtzberg has shared show everyone just how powerful of an impact cord blood has had on the autism of these children. The video below was taken at the child's initial and six-month evaluations. It contains two videos, each offered from two angles. The first video shows the child before his cord blood transfusion. He shows some of the typical symptoms of autism including frequent repetitive behaviors, absence of simple, functional toy play and avoidance of social interaction, touch and intimacy with his father. The second video shows that same little boy six months later. The first thing you'll notice is that he is in his father's arms. This is in complete contrast to the lack of social touch the child displayed in the first video. He also is no longer displaying the use of repetitive behaviors—except for the continued engagement in social interactions and toy play that he is now able to enjoy with his father.
Even more encouraging is the before-and-after video one year post-transplant. At first, we see a little boy who can express few words and limited vocalizations. He uses minimal physical gestures, engages in limited physical interaction and doesn't make eye contact with the researcher. In the next video, of the one-year evaluation, we see a dramatically different version of that same little boy. He is expressing himself with full sentences and gestures, conducting imaginary play, and shows increased emotional response including sustained eye contact. In that one year, this little boy's IQ went from 54 to 82, and his language score rose from 62 to 97.
At the end of her presentation, Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg sums up the hope that lies in cord blood to treat autism and so much more:
"So I will summarize by just saying the cord blood journey is 27 years young. 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."