Can Cerebral Palsy be Cured?

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In many cases, cerebral palsy, a condition where the motor brain cells are injured inside the womb, during the birth process or after birth, is not exactly curable. The time period during which the brain lacked oxygen usually has long passed when the cerebral palsy is diagnosed and the best doctors can do is focus on prevention of cerebral palsy by having good prenatal care, sufficient care during birth and prevention of child abuse and infant injury. Because cerebral palsy can happen any time between conception and the time a child is two years of age, it is hard to identify the exact time the cerebral palsy damage happened in order to restore oxygenation to the brain.

That being said, modern medicine has been working on ways to cure cerebral palsy in patients who have already begun to show signs of the disease. One way that researchers have come up with that is in the early stages of investigation is curing cerebral palsy with a stem cell transplant. In a stem cell transplant, cells from the baby's umbilical cord, which are rich in stem cells, are given to the baby with the hope that these cells find their way to the brain to develop into brain cells.

Stem cell transplantation for cerebral palsy has been studied at Duke University. The basic premise is that, by giving the patient's own stem cells from the umbilical cord blood, the stem cells, which are really immature cells, grow and develop into brain cells, replacing the damaged and dead cells of the brain.

This is currently being studied and the results are not yet completely available. On the other hand, stem cell replacement has been studied in animal models of cerebral palsy with the finding that the animals improved both clinically and radiographically after receiving these immature cells. It turns out that umbilical cord blood cells are able to both differentiate into brain cells and facilitate repair of damaged cells. Ideally, this is what should happen in human babies who need to have more brain cells and healthier brain cells in order to cure cerebral palsy. While the current Duke study is not over with, parents are already reporting an improvement in nerve and motor function in their kids with cerebral palsy.

Because umbilical cord blood transplant of allogeneneic (cells from the same person) cord blood is not currently a common procedure in the US, parents are being offered the opportunity to have this done in certain foreign countries where it can be done because regulations around this sort of thing are not as strict. Once the study comes through, however, it may become common practice to be able to provide stem cells from umbilical cord blood to infants and toddlers showing evidence of the disease.

One other problem is the expense of saving cord blood cells. This is a procedure that can easily be done at the time of birth by extracting cells from the recently expelled placenta and umbilical cord. Unfortunately, it is not part of routine practice unless parents choose to have it done and also choose to pay several hundred dollars for the cord blood collection and for the storage of cord blood in a cryogenic environment. Because cerebral palsy doesn't show up at the time of birth, parents may be forced to discard their cord blood due to the cost and would not know they really needed it until many months later when the child first develops symptoms of cerebral palsy.

Another possibility when it comes to curing cerebral palsy is to use stem cells collected from adults. Adults have stem cells, too, but not as many as umbilical cords. Still, cells can be collected from qualified donors, allowed to divide and grow until they can be provided to the child with CP. This is a more difficult procedure than allogeneic mesenchymal and CD34+ cells from the umbilical cord.

In other situations, the affected child can receive stem cells from donated cord blood. The cells don't need to be matched like when blood is donated but there isn't a large donated umbilical cord bank like there is for bone marrow transplantation or for regular blood banks. Perhaps, as it becomes medically proven that stem cell transplantation cures or helps cerebral palsy, it will become a routine thing to salvage stem cells from the umbilical cords of all babies so that a large bank of stem cells can be created.

So what are the advantages of using allogeneic cord blood and matrix-derived stem cells from donors as opposed to using cells from the child's own cord blood? Because very few people have opted to save their baby's cord blood, this type of donation can be given to anyone from a donated umbilical cord sample. In addition, allogeneic cells can be given many times over, while using the baby's own cord blood is a one shot experience. The procedure uses an umbilical cord matrix to grow adult stem cells on them so that the concentration of stem cells is much higher than ordinary cord blood.

Another possible "cure" for cerebral palsy (if it works the way it's supposed to) is to obtain bone marrow stem cells and allow them to develop and grow to numbers large enough to affect brain cells. These cells are, unfortunately, not as potent as real umbilical stem cells and there are not very many of the all - important mesenchymal cells.

So how does stem cell transplantation work in cerebral palsy? A physician obtains washed stem cells from the laboratory to be given to the child with cerebral palsy. Stem cells may be given via an IV or intrathecally. When given intrathecally, an experienced anesthesiologist administers the cells into the space around the spinal cord. These cells then travel directly to the brain, where they can migrate to areas of the brain not having the cells they need. The stem cell can then differentiate into a neuron and will function that way for the rest of the person's life.

It takes about 5 days to receive the treatment with about 4 intravenous injections of stem cells given. Alternatively, 2 of the injections are given by IV while two more are given to the area around the spinal cord. After this, physical therapy is started to attempt to put the stem cells to good use and to begin to have the child's functionality improve.

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