Watching a child take his or her first step is a milestone for many parents, but for the mother and father of a child who has cerebral palsy, it can feel like the first step in a new direction.
Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg and a team of researchers at Duke University Medical Center are helping children take that first step with umbilical cord blood. In the results of their most recent clinical trial, they found that "umbilical cord blood improves whole brain connectivity and motor function in young children with cerebral palsy."
Cerebral palsy, called CP for short, is the most common motor-function disability in children, affecting approximately one in 345. 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.
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 that same little boy one year after receiving a cord blood treatment and able to walk independently.
In 2010, Dr. Kurtzberg and her team at Duke conducted the first trial on the safety and feasibility of cord blood to treat acquired neurological disorders like cerebral palsy.
In part because of those results, in June 2014, Duke Medicine was awarded $15 million to support an innovative research program to further explore the use of umbilical cord blood cells to treat autism, stroke, cerebral palsy and related brain disorders.
Duke's subsequent phase 2 study of autologous cord blood infusions studied 63 children between the ages of one year and six years who had cerebral palsy because of brain damage incurred before or at birth and had similarly positive results. Of note, a dose effect was seen and the minimum dose of 25 million cells per kilogram of body weight was established.
“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 Dr. Kurtzberg.
The participants were given a range of doses depending on how many stem cells they were able to store, ranging from 10 million cells to 50 million cells per approx. two pounds of body weight. The results show that children who received greater than 25 million cells per 2.2 lb. of body weight exceeded the gains made by children with smaller doses or who received a placebo. (Learn more about how we count cells here.)
Researchers noted that children with cerebral palsy will often make gains as they get older but said that children given high dosages in the study exceeded increases that could normally be expected because of age progression. The study team noted improvements after the first year for high-dose infusions were 30% higher than would have been predicted for age and level of function.
Subsequently the Duke team showed that similar results could be achieved with infusion of appropriately dosed, fully or partially HLA matched sibling cord blood.
Most recently, the team at Duke tested, in a phase 2 randomized study, whether higher dose (100 million cells/kg) of donor cord blood cells was safe and beneficial in kids with CP. The study also tested whether 3 doses of donor cord tissue mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) could help kids with CP. The study showed that cord blood was again beneficial, but that MSCs were not.
Jenny and Ryan Levine saw a dramatic turnaround in their daughter, Chloe’s, cerebral palsy after undergoing a cord blood stem cell therapy at Duke University.
Other evidence of cord blood’s effectiveness against cerebral palsy was demonstrated by Dr. Min Young Kim and colleagues at the CHA Bundang Medical Center in South Korea. They treated 96 children between the ages of 10 months and 10 years with matching donor cord blood and erythropoietin, a growth factor that has neural repair properties. They found beneficial effects in motor and cognitive function, especially those who had more closely matching cord blood available.
How Cord Blood Treats Cerebral Palsy
There are a few schools of thought on how cord blood can repair brain trauma or neurodegenerative disorders.
- The transplanted stem cells directly replace dead or dying cells.
- The transplanted stem cells secret growth factors that indirectly rescue the injured tissue.
- The transplanted stem cells build a “biobridge” that connects the healthy section of the brain and the damaged section of the brain to facilitate the transport of new neural stem cells to the area in need of repair.
Current Clinical Trials
Duke University's expanded clinical trial is open to children who have their own cord blood stored or access to partially or fully matching cord blood from a sibling and has already attracted the attention of many parents.
Another clinical trial at Duke University is looking at the effects of cord tissue therapy on children with cerebral palsy.
In addition to the Duke trials, there is a clinical trial underway in Augusta University using umbilical cord blood in the treatment of cerebral palsy.
In South Korea, Dr. Kim is moving forward further with his studies, and there is also a clinical trial underway at Hanyang University Hospital.
Parents who have cord blood stored with Cryo-Cell and want to learn more about gaining access to these trials treating cerebral palsy can use the link to make contact with us.