Almost four out of every 1 000 children are born with cerebral palsy each year. While there’s currently no cure for this debilitating group of disorders, a three-year-old South African boy born with cerebral palsy has been accepted into a ground-breaking stem cell treatment programme at Duke University in the United States.
Two clinical trials
The treatment is experimental, but involves an infusion of the child’s own umbilical cord blood. The boy’s parents stored his umbilical cord at birth in Africa’s largest private stem cell bank, Netcells. Stem cells are in essence the building blocks of life and can transform into specialised cells that can regenerate or facilitate the repair of cells damaged by disease, genetics or injury. The umbilical cord is rich in haematopoietic stem cells that can be used in the treatment of cerebral palsy.
Read: Cerebral palsy
Symptoms of cerebral palsy include difficulty with fine motor tasks (such as writing or using scissors), difficulty maintaining balance or walking and involuntary movements. It is believed the treatment will aid in relieving these symptoms.
Prof Joanna Kurtzberg from Duke University will oversee the treatment. In 1993 she was the first person to successfully perform an unrelated cord blood transplant. She has completed two clinical trials which demonstrated that the functional ability of children with cerebral palsy improved with a single intravenous infusion of a child’s own umbilical cord stem cells.
According to Dr Yvonne Holt, medical director of Netcells, regenerative therapies are an emerging and extremely promising area of medical science.
“In less than a generation, research into the use of umbilical cord blood stem cells is producing powerful treatments for a range of diseases and genetic disorders,” she says.
“These include over 80 blood disorders and immune system conditions such as leukaemia, anaemia and autoimmune diseases where cord blood stem cells are used to regenerate bone marrow, and there are trials underway for treatments of autism, brain injury and Type 1 diabetes.”
Prior to acceptance into the treatment programme at Duke University, both the boy and his unit of blood had to undergo various assessments. The unit has already been transported to the university and will be administered in July.