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Stem Cell Therapy Autism

By Karolynn Halpert

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With an astounding 1 in 59 children in the United States diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), the condition has garnered quite a bit of support for medical treatments and clinical trials. Autism Spectrum Disorder affects between 1-2% of the population, and awareness has been steadily increasing as people look for better ways to treat ASD.

Billions of dollars are poured into research and treatments for ASD every year. Stem cell treatments have recently received more support as a potential treatment option for patients with autism. There has been new evidence that stem cell treatments are not only safe, but improve the behavior of children with autism. More studies are currently underway to explore stem cells as a viable treatment for ASD.

Causes of Autism

There is no one cause of autism that research can point to. Scientists believe that there are a large number of potential factors, such as environment and genetics. Inflammatory and autoimmune diseases are also thought to cause the disorder. More specifically, gut inflammation caused by immune system malfunction is another potential cause of ASD.

How Do Stem Cells Treat Autism

Stem cells more or less replace cells in your body that are not working correctly with cells that do function properly. Inflammation appears to be one of the main symptoms of autism and numerous studies have shown that certain types of stem cells reduce inflammation. Taking the unhealthy gut cells and replacing them with cells that are healthy can help the immune system function properly. This should in turn reduce the effects of autism.

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Potential Pitfalls

There is still a lot of research that needs to be completed before this treatment will be even looked at by the FDA to treat ASD. One of the main concerns is the potential safety of these treatments. As with any new drug or form of therapy, the medical community needs to make sure that there is a certain level of safety for patients. The FDA will not approve a form of therapy that has too many risks for patients, no matter how positive the benefits are.

One risk that the treatment poses is risk of rejection by the patient. The body’s immune system might identify the newly injected cells from another patient as invaders and destroy them. However, if you use cells that are your own then you will have no problems with rejection.

In most studies there have been few or no side effects from taking part of stem cell therapy for ASD treatment. In fact, most patients report that their condition is less severe after their therapy session. Depending on the severity of autism, families may find it worth exploring stem cell therapy as a treatment option to improve their children’s lives.

Research is Forging Ahead

The medical community has seen the promise of stem cells for treating a wide variety of conditions. This has prompted medical facilities to create their own studies and trials to test if stem cells can improve the condition of patients with autism.

A ground breaking research study performed by Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg at the Duke University Medical Center could give patients with Autism even more hope. The study titled, ‘Autologous Umbilical Cord Blood Infusion for Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder,’ was completed back in 2017 and showed promising results. 

25 children were injected with umbilical cord blood. The children in the study ranged ages 2 to 6. The main goal of the study was to ensure that the treatment would be safe –– not to explore if the treatment would work. Nevertheless, the treatment’s efficacy was still of interest to researchers. The results were, in fact, promising. Only two children were agitated after the injection, while four children experienced an allergic reaction. Besides those minor issues, there were no significant side effects in the year that followed the injection.

Besides minor side effects, parents noticed an improvement in their children’s behavior. The children showed significant behavioral improvements 6 months after the injection and still maintained the improvements 12 months after the injection. Even when natural childhood development was taken into account, there was such an improvement that researchers are hopeful that this treatment could become a mainstream form of therapy for children with autism.

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There is a lot of discussion regarding which part of the umbilical cord blood is actually making a difference in the patient’s condition. There are some researchers who believe that a type of white blood cell, called monocytes, are decreasing brain inflammation –– which leads to an improvement of symptoms. There is no current evidence that these white blood cells are the mechanism making the difference in the patients.

A second study, titled ‘Cord Blood Infusion for Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder.’ has been initiated thanks to the success of the first study. This study has a much larger sample size, with 165 children receiving the treatment. The increased sample size will provide researchers with more evidence and a greater understanding of the effects of umbilical cord blood.

There are even more clinical trials going on across the globe, where patients are being recruited continuously. Participating in these trials is a very serious discussion, however. These treatments could make the world of difference in a patient with Autism, but there are always risks associated with such trails. Families and their health care professionals should discuss the risks and potential benefits that a treatment such as stem cell therapy could bring to their child with Autism.

For now, the medical world will continue to develop new therapies and treatments targeted at treating Autism. One should be cautiously optimistic about the current state of stem cell therapies and their application for those with Autism, although the future is certainly bright for those with severe forms of ASD and are in need of treatment. Once enough medical evidence is gathered, there will be countless stem cell therapy centers located all over the world treating patients for everything from Autism to Alzheimer’s disease.

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Tags: stem cell therapy, stem cell, Autism, kid, child

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