Cerebral Palsy is the umbrella term for a number of neurological conditions that affect movement and co-ordination. Cerebral Palsy occurs when the brain develops abnormally or is damaged before the child is born, sometimes during birth or shortly after birth. It is a disabling condition that impacts negatively on a child’s life and his or her family. Considered incurable, the approach to managing this debilitating disease thus far has been aimed at supportive care in its many facets: nutritional, counseling, social and functional.
Cerebral Palsy Stem Cell Studies
In a recent study, bone marrow stem cells were injected into the spinal canal of 17 Cerebral Palsy patients. In a disease that has hitherto been considered incurable, the results were nothing short of remarkable. Marked improvements in gross motor functions were evident in some of the patients.
A stem cell can be defined as an undifferentiated cell that has the capacity of giving rise to more cells of the same type and from which certain other kinds of cells arise by differentiation. Stem cells carry growth stimulating properties. They also display immuno-modulatory and regenerative characteristics.
A previous study involving one patient, and using bone marrow-derived mononuclear cells (BMMCS) produced promising results. The patient showed significant improvement in controlling incontinence and remarkable enhancement in cognitive and speech capacities as well as motor and sensory abilities.
In the most recent study the 17 Cerebral Palsy patients were intrathecally injected with BMMCs so that the cells went directly to the cerebrospinal fluid. 15 of the patients responded to these injections. 11 out of the 15 scored from 1 to 3 levels on the GMFCS scoring system. This is the Gross Motor Function Classification System which gauges responsiveness in motor, sensory, cognitive and speech capacities. There was no reported regression among the patients who showed an overall average improvement score of 1.3 points. Of particular note was the improvement displayed in spasticity (with a marked reversal of feelings of stiffness and reduction in involuntary muscle spasms). The overall improvement was no less impressive with some patients reporting the cessation of incontinence problems and the regaining of normal motility functions. Cognitive functions in 6 of the patients were noticeably enhanced.
Although not all of the patients recorded improvements in their general condition, the numbers of those who did were significant enough for the scientists involved to mark this as a positive first step in eventually taming or at the very least bringing Cerebral Palsy to manageable levels. The results of this study suggest that BMMC intrathecal injections are not only safe but are potentially beneficial to patients suffering from the various forms of Cerebral Palsy.
Further studies will no doubt be carried out to entrench these results. Perhaps the focus should now shift and concentrate more on allogenic stem cells. Allogenic transplants involve stem cells which are collected from a matching donor and injected into the patient. (This is in contrast to autologous stem cells which refer to stem cells from the patient’s own body). Given their convenience and ready abundance allogenic stem cells would potentially be more efficient than autologous stem cells.