Stem cell therapy offers a new hope to repair brain damage in newborns


A stroke is more commonly associated with the elderly. However, when newborn baby Tom’s (not his real name) left arm and leg began shaking rhythmically, an MRI scan revealed he had suffered a severe stroke. About one in 5,000 newborns have a stroke and it usually happens the first few days after they are born.

What is a stroke?

A stroke is a serious life-threatening medical condition that happens when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off.

There are two main causes of stroke: a blocked artery (ischemic stroke) or leaking or bursting of a blood vessel (hemorrhagic stroke).

Ischemic stroke

An ischemic stroke is the most common type of stroke. It happens when the brain’s blood vessels become narrowed or blocked, causing severely reduced blood flow (ischemia). Blocked or narrowed blood vessels are caused by fatty deposits that build up in blood vessels, blood clots or other debris. These travel through the bloodstream, most often from the heart, and lodge in the blood vessels in the brain.

Hemorrhagic stroke

A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when blood from an artery suddenly begins bleeding into the brain. As a result, the part of the body controlled by the damaged area of the brain cannot work properly. There are two main types of hemorrhagic stroke: Intracranial hemorrhages, when the bleeding occurs inside the brain and Subarachnoid hemorrhages, when bleeding occurs in the subarachnoid space which is between the brain and the membranes that cover it.

What happens if a baby has a stroke?

Sadly, until very recently no therapy exists for newborns who suffer a stroke and most babies will have problems later in life, with the severity of the problems depending on which brain areas were injured. These problems can include muscle tightness in the arms and legs (cerebral palsy), behaviour problems, learning difficulties and epilepsy.

Can stem cells help?

Researchers at the University Medical Centre Utrecht have been working on new treatments, one of which involves stem cells.

Stem cells have the ability to morph into many different cells in the body. The theory is that if stem cells are transplanted into the damaged part of a baby’s brain, the stem cells’ growth factor will stimulate the brain to repair itself.

Tom was the first baby to participate in a study and received stem cells within a week of being born. They were delivered intranasally (through the nose) via nose drops and travelled rapidly and specifically to the injured brain area, as the brain sends our ‘alarm signals’ which guide the cells to the right spot on the brain.

A follow up MRI scan of the brain three months after the stroke showed less injury than expected, possibly because of the stem cells. At four months, Tom performed well when the quality of his movements were tested. Tom’s development will be checked again when he is two-years-old.

Stem cell therapy has given Tom’s parents hope that he might recover from his stroke and also opens up opportunities for other babies with brain injury, such as babies who are born too early, or babies that suffer from a lack of oxygen during birth. 

New possibilities for treatments using stem cells are being investigated

The science around stem cells is hugely exciting. That’s why we’ve made it our mission to educate as many expectant parents as possible on why you should bank stem cells from your baby’s cord blood and cord tissue.

Want to find out more about why you should store your baby’s stem cells? Download our brochure or call our lovely team on 01752 753723 who will be able to answer any of your questions.

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