Doctors use baby's cord blood to treat diseases

January 11, 2010 9:02:37 AM PST
Cerebral palsy is a group of disorders involving movement, learning, hearing, seeing and thinking that occur due to problems with brain development. While the condition has no cure, there are treatments aimed at improving a child's independence. According to the National Institutes of Health, some of these therapies include medications to control seizures, relax muscles spasms and alleviate pain; physical therapy; occupational therapy; speech therapy; and surgery for certain abnormalities.

At Duke University Medical Center, doctors are conducting a study in which about 150 children with cerebral palsy are injected with their own cord blood cells. Doctors have reported the cord blood stem cells have the potential to reduce muscle tightness, improve mobility and help children with their speech.

"We know from our work with children who have genetic diseases of the brain that cells go to the brain after we infuse them in the blood, and that they can help repair damage in the brain," Joanne Kurtzberg, M.D., director of the Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., told Ivanhoe. "We're hoping in children with cerebral palsy that will happen as well. Now, there are a lot of things we don't know about it. We don't know how many cells we have to give. We really don't know if giving them in the blood is the best way to do it, and we don't know if the age of the child matters."

Dr. Kurtzberg says it will take at least a year to know if the cord blood infusions make a difference in children with cerebral palsy. "Most of them have spasticity, which is stiffness or inability to use an extremity ? and so we're going to look to see if their function improves after the cells are infused," Dr. Kurtzberg explained. "We do know in animals and in some of the work with donor cells that cord blood cells have the potential to help various organs in the body."

CORD BLOOD FOR DIABETES: At the University of Florida, researchers have found umbilical cord blood may safely preserve insulin production in children newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Researchers identified children recently diagnosed with type 1 diabetes whose families banked their umbilical cord blood at birth. Most were still producing a small amount of insulin. The researchers then gave the seven patients ages 2 to 7 intravenous infusions of stem cells isolated from their own cord blood. The patients were evaluated for the next two years to measure how much insulin they were making on their own. In the first six months, they required significantly less insulin and maintained better control of blood sugar levels than children of comparable age with type 1 diabetes who were randomly selected from the clinic population. The researchers also noted that the children who received cord blood infusions had higher levels of regulatory immune cells in their blood six months after the infusion.


Michelle Gailiun
Media Relations
Duke University Medical Center