[This is a sponsored post by Sherry Lindbak]
When a child is diagnosed with autism, families often embark on a lifelong quest to find answers, to seek treatment, and to maintain hope. Hope may now come in the form of a cure for autism if a new research study proves successful.
Dr. Michael Chez, director of pediatric neurology at the Sutter Neuroscience Institute in Sacramento, California, and his colleagues have launched the first FDA-approved clinical trial that uses umbilical cord blood stem cells in an attempt to correct certain language and behavioral manifestations of autism. There will be 30 participants in the clinical trial, ages 3 to 7. At the start of the research, the children will be split into two groups, half receiving an infusion of cord blood stem cells and half receiving a placebo. At six months, the groups will swap therapies, and the results will be closely monitored.
Autism is a neurobiological disorder that usually presents in a child’s first three years of life. It is the fastest-growing developmental disability in the U.S., affecting 1 in 88 children and 1 in 54 boys. Autism is often characterized by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.
Though its prevalence is remarkable, there is currently no cure, and scientists are still unsure about the specific causes of autism. Researchers believe that many factors contribute to the development of the disorder, including genetic markers, prenatal factors or exposure to infection. A number of other possible causes have been suspected, but not proven. They include:
- Digestive tract changes
- Mercury poisoning
- The body’s inability to properly use vitamins and minerals
- Vaccine sensitivity
When there is no obvious genetic link to autism, Dr. Chez believes that the condition can be reversed or “cured”. According to Dr. Chez, evidence suggests that certain children with autism have “dysfunctional immune systems that may be damaging or delaying the development of the nervous system.” While stem cells have been used to treat certain immunological disorders for over 20 years, the role and relationship of the immune system and the nervous system in the development of autism has only recently been explored.
Inspired by the encouraging results of unpublished data examining stem cell therapy in children with cerebral palsy, Dr. Chez hopes that the infusion of cord blood stem cells will repair the immune systems of patients with environmentally linked autism, which would also improve language and some behavior in children who have no genetic link to the disorder.
It should be noted that research examining the connection between autism and the immune system is preliminary. The goal of this research is to establish whether there may be any future role for stem cell therapy in autism spectrum disorder.
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