For a child with spastic cerebral palsy, simply grasping a toy may be impossible. But infusions of their own umbilical cord blood might make basic movements like this easier, researchers say.
Children with spastic cerebral palsy have stiff muscles that can make it hard to move. The condition is usually caused by brain damage before or at birth.
“We are encouraged by the results of this study, which shows that appropriately dosed infusions of cord blood cells can help lessen symptoms in children with cerebral palsy,” said senior author Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg. She directs Duke University’s pediatric blood and marrow transplant program, in Durham, N.C.
The gains were subtle in some cases. But even a seemingly small improvement is significant, the researchers said in a university news release.
“For example, a child’s ability to turn their hand from facing down to facing up can change their ability to hold or grasp something, which can make a big difference in their everyday life,” said lead author Dr. Jessica Sun. She’s a pediatric hematologist-oncologist at Duke.
The study included 63 children with various types and degrees of spastic cerebral palsy.
The researchers found that those who received one intravenous dose of cord blood with at least 25 million stem cells per kilogram of body weight had improvements in motor function a year later.
The improvements were greater than for those who received a lower dose of stem cells or a placebo. They were also greater than what’s typically seen in children of similar age and condition, according to the study authors.
Kurtzberg said there’s still much to learn about this therapy so that it can be accessible to more children with cerebral palsy.
“Now that we have identified a dosing threshold, we are planning additional studies testing the benefits of multiple doses of cells, as well as the use of donor cells for patients whose own cord blood was not banked,” she said.
Previous research has indicated that it’s safe for children with cerebral palsy to receive an infusion of their own cord blood, Kurtzberg said.
The study was the second of three required for approval of a therapy in the United States. Results were published Oct. 28 in the journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on cerebral palsy.