Families living with autism have welcomed life-changing news this week. 30 children with the developmental disorder have been successfully treated with their own umbilical cord blood in the world’s first randomised, double-blinded, placebo-tested crossover study.
Not only was the treatment for autism proven to be safe, but parents and doctors noted improvements in the social, functional and linguistic skills of the children involved in the trial.
One parent, mother Jennifer Lundberg, said she knew almost immediately when Hayden received the cord blood infusion as opposed to the saline:
We had been trying for more than four years to have him potty-trained, and within two weeks he started to self-potty. We never thought this was possible.
The changes that Hayden experienced also improved his ability to communicate with his family:
He also now has this global understanding of language that he didn’t have before. For example, I would ask him to open up the air-conditioning vents, and he all of a sudden knew what to do. He doesn’t have the same outbursts that he used to have.
Asked for her views on cord blood stem cell treatment for autistic children, Mrs Lundberg said:
It is truly amazing. If we could do it again, we definitely would do it again.
Another mother who asked not to be identified said her young son also improved:
We saw improvements in his overall development – in his language and social interaction… It definitely helped.
Dr Micheal Chez of the Sutter Neuroscience Institute was able to confirm the observations of parents scientifically, saying that:
The Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scale for Socialization, one of the tests commonly used to measure real-world functional abilities, showed significant improvement after 12 weeks of cord blood treatment over placebo.”
The significance of the findings was limited by the size of the study: only 30 patients were treated in the pilot research, however, the findings supported those of an earlier study by Duke University School of Medicine. Results from the Phase I trial published in April 2017 showed that among 25 children ages 2 to 5, more than two-thirds appeared to experience improved speech, socialization, and eye contact.
Duke Pediatric Bone Marrow Transplant Specialist Joanne Kurtzberg, MD, who was a principal investigator of a Phase I study of autism therapy for children using their own umbilical cord blood commented:
We are cautiously optimistic about these early findings, but parents of children with autism should not interpret these results as conclusively showing effectiveness of this treatment. There is much work still to be done in much larger, randomized clinical studies before we can draw any firm conclusions about effectiveness.
Cord blood can be collected and stored after a baby is born with no ill-effects to mother or child. The stem cells in cord blood are rich in haematopoietic stem cells (HSCs), the parent cells of all blood and immune system cells in the body. These stem cells can be cryopreserved for up to 25 years, and possibly even longer, and can be used to treat the child or a matching family member if they ever need a transplant.
HSCs are already used to treat blood cancers such as leukaemia and can cure some conditions such as sickle cell disease. Last year a ground-breaking study suggested that cord blood stem cells could treat cerebral palsy, opening up a new and exciting field of regenerative medicine that promises to improve many lives.
Children with autism are given an infusion of their own cord blood stem cells in this latest treatment. Because HSCs have the ability to regenerate and repair damaged cells and to stimulate new growth, there is the possibility of cognitive growth and development.
Find out how to store your child’s cord blood stem cells here.