Stem Cell Therapy for Autism: A Promising Treatment

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Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental condition that affects communication, social skills, behavior, and sensory processing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 59 children has been identified with ASD. While there is no known “cure” for autism, emerging research suggests that stem cell therapy may help improve symptoms and quality of life for individuals with ASD.

What Causes Autism Spectrum Disorder?

The causes of ASD are not fully understood, but research points to several contributing factors:

  • Genetics – Studies have identified over 100 genes associated with ASD, and those with a family history of autism are more likely to develop ASD.
  • Environmental factors – Exposure to heavy metals, air pollution, pesticides, and other toxins in utero or early childhood may increase ASD risk.
  • Abnormalities in brain structure – ASD has been linked to differences in early brain development, such as larger brain size and abnormal neural connectivity.
  • Immune system dysregulation – Many individuals with ASD have chronic inflammation, food allergies, and gastrointestinal issues, suggesting immune system involvement.
  • Oxidative stress – Imbalances between free radicals and antioxidants can cause oxidative damage to the brain and body.

While the exact causes are still being unraveled, it appears that multiple factors contribute to the development of ASD in susceptible individuals. Stem cell therapy aims to address some of the underlying issues like inflammation, impaired connectivity, and oxidative stress.

How Do Stem Cells Work?

Stem cells are primitive cells that have the potential to develop into different cell types in the body. There are several types of stem cells being studied for autism treatment:

  • Hematopoietic stem cells from cord blood – These stem cells can develop into blood and immune cells and may help regulate inflammation.
  • Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) – MSCs derived from umbilical cord tissue, bone marrow, or fat have anti-inflammatory and tissue repair properties.
  • Neural stem cells – These stem cells can form nerve cells and may help repair connections in the brain.

Stem cells can act through several mechanisms to potentially benefit those with ASD:

  • Modulating the immune system – Stem cells can reduce inflammation and autoimmunity.
  • Creating new neurons – Neural stem cells may aid in forming new connections in the brain.
  • Reducing oxidative stress – Stem cells enhance antioxidant activity.
  • Releasing growth factors – Factors secreted by stem cells support nerve growth and cell survival.- Restoring blood flow – Stem cells promote new blood vessel formation in the brain.

Current Research on Stem Cells for Autism

Stem cell therapy is still highly experimental for ASD, but initial results from early-stage clinical trials have been promising.

In 2017, Duke University published results from an open-label trial on children with cerebral palsy. The study was led by Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg using children’s own umbilical cord blood. The trial found that giving children with cerebral palsy a single infusion of at least 25 million stem cells per kilogram of their body weight from their own umbilical cord blood led to better than expected improvements in brain connectivity and motor function a year later. The children who received this high dose infusion showed more gains in motor skills and MRI scans showed better brain connectivity compared to children given a lower dose, no cells, or placebo. Since cerebral palsy and ASD are  both neurological disorders, it is believed that stem cell therapy may also improve ASD symptoms.

A Phase 1 trial by Sutter Health in California also found that cord blood infusions were safe and well-tolerated in children with ASD. This study tested using stem cells from umbilical cord blood to treat autism in children. 29 children with autism were given either stem cells from their own umbilical cord blood or a placebo. After 24 weeks they switched to get the other treatment. Tests were done to see if the stem cell treatment improved language, thinking, behavior and social skills. The stem cell transfusions were safe with no serious side effects. There were some trends toward improvement, especially in social skills, but no big differences between the stem cells and placebo. This shows stem cells can be safely given to children with autism. It provides a model for doing more studies in the future.

Several other small studies in China and Panama using mesenchymal stem cells from umbilical cord tissue or bone marrow also reported benefits in language, social interaction, and behavior in ASD patients. More research is underway.

In addition to cord blood and MSCs, neural stem cells are also being explored as a potential autism treatment. Scientists from Duke University implanted neural stem cells derived from autistic children into mouse models. The stem cell transplantation reversed autism-like behaviors, pointing to their therapeutic potential. While these findings are encouraging, stem cell therapy for autism remains highly experimental and larger controlled studies are needed. Parents should approach clinics advertising stem cell treatments for autism with caution, as safety and efficacy have not yet been proven.

Stem Cell Therapy at Stem Cell Medical Center

Here at Stem Cell Medical Center in Antigua, we offer stem cell therapy using umbilical cord tissue-derived mesenchymal stem cells (UC-MSCs) for neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism.

Our highly experienced medical team has safely performed many stem cell procedures for Autism. We source high-quality UC-MSCs from accredited labs and we do our own in house expansion and testing with the use of flow cytometry. 

If your child with autism struggles with immune issues, brain connectivity problems, or inflammation, stem cell therapy may help ameliorate some of their symptoms. While not a cure, this innovative treatment can potentially improve quality of life. To learn more about our UC-MSC therapy for autism, contact Stem Cell Medical Center today to schedule a consultation.

References:

Chez M, Lepage C, Parise C, Dang-Chu A, Hankins A, Carroll M. Safety and Observations from a Placebo-Controlled, Crossover Study to Assess Use of Autologous Umbilical Cord Blood Stem Cells to Improve Symptoms in Children with Autism. Stem Cells Transl Med. 2018 Apr;7(4):333-341. doi: 10.1002/sctm.17-0042. Epub 2018 Feb 6. PMID: 29405603; PMCID: PMC5866927.