Cord Blood Treatments Continue to Offer Promise for Treating Cerebral Palsy

Cord BloodCerebral palsy (CP) is the number one most common motor dysfunction in childhood. It is a debilitating condition children have for life. While there is still no known cure for cerebral palsy, doctors have made a giant leap closer with an innovative new treatment that’s changing lives: umbilical cord blood stem cell infusions. Multiple children during trials of the procedure have seen outstanding results in a short period of time. It holds a great deal of promise for kids with CP everywhere.

What is Umbilical Cord Blood Treatment?

In the past, the only available treatments for people with cerebral palsy included medications to relieve symptoms, rehabilitative therapies, and some non-traditional treatments such as electrical stimulation. While these treatments can serve to reduce the symptoms associated with cerebral palsy and improve a child’s motor function, they do not reverse or eliminate symptoms completely. The newest treatment using cord blood, however, may have this power.

Cord blood infusions do not mask the symptoms of cerebral palsy. Instead, patients have experienced a total reversal of cerebral palsy signs through this treatment, which patients and their families have called “miraculous.” Umbilical cord blood treatment involves the intravenous infusion of a patient’s own stem cells, harvested from the umbilical cord at birth. Parents have the option to bank a baby’s blood cells, for around $2,000.

As of today, only infants with banked blood cells are eligible to receive cord blood treatments. However, newer trials are trying cord blood taken from siblings. Upon infusion of the healthy cord blood cells into an area that requires healing, the body creates new cells to replace damaged or unhealthy ones. This can result in real, measurable improvement to the patient’s cerebral palsy. Cord blood infusions are some of the most advanced cerebral palsy treatments available.

Success With Cord Blood Treatment for CP Patients

One of the first children involved in the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) trial of this treatment, 11-year-old Drew Kijek, could lift his head, sit up, and multitask for the first time in his life after receiving treatment. Drew is older than most candidates for this treatment (between two and six years old), but he still saw incredible results from his second round of injections. Another child, Chloe Levine, also saw a reversal of her cerebral palsy symptoms after a cord blood infusion. She can now play soccer, ride horses, ride bicycles, and do other things she never could before.

More recently, a 2016 trial of 17 cerebral palsy patients saw a 73% improvement rate of evaluable patients. That’s almost three-fourths of the group showing a good response on the Gross Motor Function Classification System. In this study, 40% of patients reported improvement in muscle spasticity. This was one of the first features to improve in the study. Another 40% noted significant cognitive function improvement. Some families also reported improvements in mobility, independent activity, and bowel and bladder control.

A Phase 2 clinical trial of cord blood infusions in 2017 was one of the largest yet, involving 63 children with cerebral palsy. This trial, completed at Duke University, concluded that 25 million stem cells per kilogram of body weight was most effective at improving motor function in kids with cerebral palsy. One year after receiving the infusions of their own blood cells, many patients in this study showed significant improvement in motor function – far more than children who received the placebo.

The Future of Cerebral Palsy Treatments

Trials for FDA approval are still underway for cord blood infusion cerebral palsy treatment. Researchers involved in ongoing studies say they still have much to learn about this therapy, to optimize it and make it more accessible for other children. The Duke trial and others like it, however, have shown very promising results. Children who previously struggled with motor function challenges saw improvements quickly, just weeks after receiving the treatment. Physical therapists have attested to the almost unbelievable results seen after cord blood infusions.

On top of its groundbreaking results, cord blood infusions are also minimally invasive. This procedure does not require a surgery and is not painful for patients. It simply involves an intravenous infusion of the patient’s own blood cells, in weekly or biweekly sessions. Although not all study participants have seen results from the treatment trials, the majority in each trial have had noticeable motor function improvements. The ease of the treatment and its promising results give hope to many parents of children with CP.

There are, however, a few caveats to the treatment so far. For instance, most of the trials have involved the patient’s own cord blood. This limits the number of eligible participants, as many parents failed to bank cord blood at birth (something that may change as researchers develop a better understanding of cord blood treatments). However, other studies are already working to eliminate this barrier, testing sibling cord blood to treat CP. Overall, the future looks positive for parents seeking innovative treatments for children with cerebral palsy.