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Stem cells from umbilical cord used for cerebral palsy treatment

Reuters, Dec 1, 2009

Cerebral palsy is a major health problem, affecting approximately 1 in 500 newborns. It is caused by damage to the brain by lack of oxygen before birth. The scientific rationale for the use of stem cells for this condition has been discussed previously in the video Stem Cell Therapy for Cerebral Palsy.

In a recent news announcement, a case of a child in Singapore with cerebral palsy that was treated with their own cord blood stem cells was discussed. "It is quite a safe procedure. It is like a standard blood transfusion, except that you are using the cord blood cells that were stored. So there is no risk of a reaction, apart from perhaps minor hypersensitivity reactions, as in all blood transfusions," said Dr Keith Goh, neurosurgeon, Mount Elizabeth Hospital.

After the administration, the patient, 2-year-old Georgia Conn is reportedly calmer, with a decrease in constant crying an seizures. The parents, Michael and Louise Conn, previously stored Georgia's umbilical cord blood cells. "Within two days, Georgia was noticeably happier. Just instantly more smiley, chatty and more energetic. That was the first real indication that something was going on," said Louise Conn. "And since then we all feel, and all her therapists feel, that her muscle tone has reduced, which is enabling her to achieve a lot more within her therapy sessions," she added.

Theoretically the risks of using a patient's own cord blood stem cells are minimal since they are not manipulated, and are of the same genetic make up as the patient. However there are certain considerations, for example, "are there enough cells" to actually cause a meaningful effect? Additionally, what if the patient needs the cord blood cells later in life?

Other approaches to cord blood stem cell therapy include using cells from non-related cords, as well as expansion of the cord blood stem cells before using. The rationale for the non-related use of cord blood has been previously published (Riordan et al. Cord blood in regenerative medicine: do we need immune suppression? J Transl Med. 2007 Jan 30;5:8). Expansion of cord blood stem cells has previously been attempted by the companies Viacell and Aastrom. Although the technology is still a work in progress, some clinical trials have been performed with expanded cord blood cells in the area of hematological malignancies such as leukemias.

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