Umbilical Cord Blood Cell Infusion Causes Cerebral Palsy Symptoms to Reverse

babyCerebral palsy is the most common motor disability in children, and there is no cure. Stem cell therapy, however, may hold tremendous potential for cerebral palsy patients. Umbilical cord blood (UCB) cell infusions are showing positive results in a short amount of time in clinical trials. Blood cell infusions in children with cerebral palsy may be able to improve motor function and brain connectivity.

What is Umbilical Cord Blood Cell Infusion?

Human umbilical cord blood cell infusion for cerebral palsy takes the child's own blood cells from his/her umbilical cord and infuses it via IV catheter into the patient's veins. This type of infusion, where the patient uses his/her own blood, is an "autologous" infusion. Allogeneic cord blood infusions, on the other hand, come from samples collected from a donor. Stem cell infusion is similar to a blood transfusion, and does not require surgery.

Physicians have used umbilical cord blood cell infusion to treat a number of diseases and conditions over the years, including sickle cell anemia, leukemia, and Hodgkin's disease. Cord blood is a common alternative to bone marrow stem cells, due to its rapid availability and the elimination of donor risk. Cord blood also poses a smaller risk of graft-versus-host disorder, or GVHD. The majority of umbilical cord blood cell infusions are pediatric cases, due to the number of stem cells needed based on the weight of the patient.

Physicians began to experiment with umbilical cord blood cells and cerebral palsy treatments in preclinical studies on animals. Studies of animals with ischemic brain injuries and cerebral palsy found that umbilical cord blood cell infusions could improve motor function. Then, a research team from Duke University tested the safety of the infusion on 184 young children with acquired neurological disorders. The study proved that umbilical cord blood cell infusion was safe and well-tolerated.

Stem Cells Translational Medicine Study

On August 25th, 2017, Stem Cells Translational Medicine published a study on the effects of umbilical cord infusion on young children with cerebral palsy. The study conducted a Phase II trial of autologous cord blood infusion in youth with cerebral palsy. It was a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study that involved 63 children ages one to six with cerebral palsy. The children in the study had a variety of cerebral palsy makeups, from preterm birth to white matter abnormalities in the brain.

The children in the study randomly received either the infusion of autologous cord blood or a placebo. One year later, the same children received the alternate infusion. Two years later, researchers performed additional analyses. At the one-year mark, researchers found that those who received the autologous cord blood infusion demonstrated significant increases in Gross Motor Function Measure (GMFM) scores, as well as normalized brain connectivity. This was a positive reaction to the blood cell infusion.

The average change in GMFM score in one year was 7.5 points, compared to 6.9 points in the placebo group. At the two-year analysis, subjects who received the infusion demonstrated a statistically significant increase in whole brain connectivity compared to children who received the placebo. The results of the study prove that umbilical cord blood cell infusion, when done appropriately, can improve gross motor function and whole brain connectivity in young children with cerebral palsy.

Blood Cell Infusions and Cerebral Palsy Symptom Reversal

The Phase II study had exciting results for researchers, doctors, and parents. It showed a positive correlation between the infusion of autologous umbilical cord blood cells and improvement in motor function and brain connectivity. The research team believed the infusion worked due to the cell-rich cord blood, which sends signaling compounds that cause brain cells to recover neurological connections. This can help people with cerebral palsy restore some measure of function they lost due to the condition.

Note, however, that physical and occupational therapy in the test subjects may have influenced the positive results of the study. The lead author of the study, Jessica Sun, M.D., also said the improvements could be subtle, but that sometimes even minor differences are significant to people with cerebral palsy. A child being able to grasp something, for example, could make a major difference to his or her quality of life. The research team plans to conduct additional studies to ascertain the benefits of multiple doses of blood cells, as well as blood cells from donors.

The Future of Stem Cell Research and Cerebral Palsy

What does the study mean for people with cerebral palsy? It means a potential treatment - one that does not require surgery or pose a risk of GVHD - could lessen common symptoms of cerebral palsy. Although further research is necessary before this type of therapy becomes more accessible to the public, it is good news for people living with cerebral palsy.

Current umbilical cord blood cell infusion studies give hope to people with cerebral palsy that a treatment to reverse symptoms exists. Perhaps someday this promising research will translate into real, measurable improvements in the quality of life for more children and adults with cerebral palsy. Until then, researchers have a lot to learn about this relatively new type of therapy.