This story by Ana Lacasa first appeared in the New Zealand Herald.
12th April 2019
“An 11-year-old British boy with autism has spoken the first full sentence in his life hours after undergoing pioneering stem cell therapy in the US.” Writes Ana Lacasa for the New Zealand Herald
Danny Bullen, who lives with his parents on the Spanish island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands, said his first ever full sentence the day after undergoing stem cell therapy and although it has not been followed up since, family members are hopeful that his speech will soon develop.
The treatment uses umbilical cord blood stem cells to stimulate repair and regeneration in the affected area. These cells are a young, potent and adaptable version of the blood stem cells (haematopoetic stem cells or HSCs) found in other parts of the body, such as the bone marrow.
Cord blood can be easily and painlessly collected at the time of birth, making it more convenient and less intrusive than other forms of stem cell harvesting. Moreover, the youth of umbilically sourced cells makes them more likely to be accepted by the patient without complications.
Many parents chose to collect their babies’ cord blood and tissue, to protect that child from other blood-related conditions such as leukaemia and sickle cell, or to treat a sibling or other close relative.
The 11-year-old, son of British writer Lee Bullen and Spanish teacher Irma Guanche, travelled to Miami in Florida in March and will hopefully return later this year for follow-up treatment.
The day after the treatment, Danny said to his mum during a beach picnic: “Dame mas papas, por favor (Give me some more crisps, please).” It was his first ever full sentence.
In the weeks since the therapy, Danny has not spoken any more full sentences and his parents have been told that it can take several months before noticing any real results.
Young Danny, who is still unable to speak and requires his family’s assistance for basic tasks such as using the toilet, has undergone numerous tests and has adopted a gluten and lactose-free diet to improve a number of autoimmune disorders.
With the help of specialised groups and online communities, his parents heard about the fantastic results being achieved with autistic children in the field of stem cell therapy.
Lee, Danny’s father, who wrote a book about coming to terms with Danny’s condition called ‘Beset’ told reporters: “They introduced umbilical cord blood stem cells with cells from my son’s bone marrow and adipose tissue.”
“Doctors introduced umbilical cord blood stem cells with cells from my son’s bone marrow and adipose tissue.”
Lee continued, “He had his first treatment in March, and the early signs are very encouraging. He is more alert and has already started to use a few new basic words and greetings.”
“Undergoing stem cell therapy over two or three visits usually brings better results, which is why we hope to take Danny to the US at least twice.
“All symptoms related to ASD (Autism spectrum disorder) have completely disappeared in many young patients.”Lee Bullen
However, while early studies have shown promise for stem cell therapy as a potential treatment for autism, scientists believe it is still in its infancy and say more research is needed.
Meanwhile, one parent of an autistic child, who preferred to remain nameless, told CEN that she only experienced “modest results” after her daughter underwent stem cell therapy two years ago.
Danny, who was diagnosed with autism in 2010 when he was two years old, is under the care of Dr Omar Lopez, who has many years of experience working with stem cell therapy.
In the UK The Mirror newspaper asked:
CAN STEM CELL THERAPY HELP AUTISTIC PATIENTS?
Generally speaking, autism affects patients in two main ways. The first is decreased blood flow to the brain, which results in less oxygen to the vital organ and therefore inflammation. This damages the ‘energy powerhouses’ of brain cells, causing the cells to die.
The second issue is the immune system of autistic patients does not respond like a healthy person’s. To combat these problems, research is increasingly pointing to stem cell treatment as a way to ‘reset’ an autistic person’s metabolism and immune system, while restoring damaged cells or tissues.
An April 2017 study by Duke University showed promise for stem cell therapy as an autism treatment. However, the scientists behind the research stress it is early days. The study was made up of 25 autistic children – aged two-to-five – who had an IV infusion of their own umbilical cord blood, which their parents banked at birth.
The results – published in the journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine – revealed more than two-thirds saw improvements in their speech, ability to socialise and eye contact.
But the study was only intended to prove safety and was not designed to show efficacy. It also had no placebo group. Autism affects more one in 100 people in the UK, National Autistic Society data shows. And in the US, around one in 59 children are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, according to the charity Autism Speaks. The condition affects how people experience the world, as well as their abilities to communicate and build relationships.
Images: The Mirror