What is cerebral palsy?
Cerebral palsy is an umbrella term for many possible symptoms that arise as a result of damage to the developing brain in the cerebral hemispheres, responsible for controlling movement, speech, learning, and more. This brain injury is acquired before, during, or shortly after birth and considered non-progressive. The symptoms can include but are not limited to muscle weakness, general motor control problems, eating, swallowing, coordination, and even problems with cognitive function.
Specific causes could be from the brain developing in an unusual way, infections during pregnancy, physical injury, complications in premature birth, critical illness at birth, lack of oxygen to the brain (hypoxia/anoxia), neonatal jaundice and kernicterus, etc. This is not an exhaustive list. There are many other possible causes that can be in any combination to cause the symptoms experienced by one person. It is important to understand that because cerebral palsy is largely an umbrella term and is defined based on the result of the condition rather than the specific cause, no two cerebral palsy patients suffer in exactly the same way.
What causes cerebral palsy?
There are a number of causes that could result in the symptoms of CP. Some of the possible causes and contributing factors that often afflict people include:
- The brain developing in an unusual way
- The genes themselves experiencing change that impacts the brain’s cells development
- Infections that happen during pregnancy
- Physical injury causing brain damage that takes place before, during, or after birth
- Complications in premature birth
- Critical illness at birth (subnormal consciousness, seizure, etc)
- A shortage or total lack of oxygen to the brain during or shortly after birth (hypoxia/anoxia)
- Neonatal Jaundice and Kernicterus
Regenerative Therapy for Cerebral Palsy
There have been many studies done on cell therapies for cerebral palsy, and clinical trials have shown that stem cells have been effective in improving CP symptoms.1 One of the most impressive studies to date on stem cell treatment for cerebral palsy is from Duke University in the United States. Duke conducted a randomised study of 63 CP children with different varieties and severities of spastic cerebral palsy. The children’s parents had placed their child’s cord blood stem cells in a blood bank after birth, and after the children were treated with their own cord blood cells, they were shown to see improvements in their motor function just a year later. These improvements were better than those of other CP children of similar age and condition, and better than those that were given fewer stem cells or none at all. One of these children’s stories can be found here. Senior author of the study Joanne Kurtzberg, M.D., is the director of Duke’s Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplant Program and the Robertson Clinical and Translational Therapy Program. She strongly believes in stem cell treatment for cerebral palsy, saying, “previous research has indicated it’s safe for children with cerebral palsy to receive an infusion of their own cord blood.
How can stem cells help cerebral palsy?
Due to the nature of the condition improvements in cerebral palsy patients can be difficult with conventional treatment, and damage is often viewed as irreversible. Injury is usually a one-time event, and the resulting condition is because the immune system is unable to reverse or repair damaged brain cells.
Stem cells are responsible for differentiating into new cells when old ones die or are injured. They are able to become skin, blood, muscle, bone, and more. One of the cells they can become are neurons in the brain. This creation of new cells is the source of healing, regrowth and continued life. A stem cell treatment by injecting concentrated, potent stem cells into the body, is able to stimulate the immune system, providing an extra boost and repair damaged brain cells as well as create new cells that the body needs. For neurological conditions, the most important area to send stem cells is the brain, so that new neurons may be created for proper brain function. Stem cell treatment for cerebral palsy is more effective in younger children because the body is still growing, attempting to repair damaged brain cells, and also learning to adapt around this injury to achieve maximum brain function.
Few conventional treatment options are available for patients diagnosed with cerebral palsy, which mostly focus on helping the patients to cope with their disability. However, none of these other options are actually treating the loss of neurological function caused by the original cerebral injury. Stem cell treatment for cerebral palsy (CP) has the ability to regenerate repair damaged cells in the body, helping to reverse the symptoms and allowing cerebral palsy patients to improve.
How is cerebral palsy treated?
As of now, there is no cure for cerebral palsy (CP). Therapies that treat cerebral palsy are for the purpose of helping to mitigate and make symptoms more manageable, especially in terms of making communication less difficult. There are a number of different areas within the disease that can be helped, and often a cerebral palsy patient will work with many types of doctors to improve on many fronts. Medications exist for patients that have need to relax stiff muscles, and to address some feeding problems in babies. Physical therapy and occupational therapy can help improve a patient’s mobility or ability to perform daily tasks, and speech therapy can be used to improve communication skills. For the most part, therapy and medications are viewed as positive interventions to manage the condition but as in all areas of medicine, some uncertainty and disagreement exists about what and when is best.
Using stem cells to treat cerebral palsy
One of the most promising stem cell treatments come from bone marrow cells called mesenchymal stem cells (MSC), hematopoietic stem cells (HSC), endothelial progenitor cells (EPC), and others. These adult stem cells are able to differentiate into different types of cells, such as osteocytes (bone marrow), chondrocytes (cartilage), myocytes (muscle), fibroblasts (tendon/ligament), adipocytes (fat), hepatic stellate cells (liver), endothelial cells (blood vessels), all blood cells, connective tissues, and more. They are even found to create neurons and glial cells. These cells are also able to release products such as cytokines and growth factors that contribute to neural protection and when injected into the brain can stimulate the body’s own repairing of damaged neural cells. The collection of stem cells for treatment can be done in many ways. It could come from the patient’s own body (autologous) or from a donor (allogenic). For CP patients, we injects stem cells for treatment is through an intravenous infusion into the bloodstream (an IV) and intrathecal injection below the spinal cord. While IV injections are a more systemic delivery aiming for cell generation in various areas of the body, the spinal cord injection can help the stem cells reach the brain better. Our Professors and Doctors have developed our own protocols over the last five years from our own clinical trials which have shown an improvement of 80% for our patients.
Stem cell treatment for cerebral palsy combined with rehabilitation has shown positive results and is the most commonly preferred option. This combination method was used for our clinical studies as well. Our Professors and Doctors have developed our own protocols over the last five years from our own clinical trials which have shown an improvement of 40% for our patients.
Beneficial Actions of Stem Cells for CP
- cross the endothelial brain barrier
- migrate to sites of injury (chemotaxis)
- communicate with and alter nearby cells (paracrine effect)
- encourage existing cells to self-repair (autocrine effect)
- immune modulation
- transform into neurons and glia
- promote the formation of nerve cell axons (axogenesis)
- release neuroprotective factors
- encourage existing cells to adapt (neuroplasticity)