Results published this week, in Stem Cells Translational Medicine, find the use of umbilical cord blood stem cells increases motor function and brain connectivity in children with cerebral palsy (CP).

The phase 2 clinical trial, conducted at the world leading Duke University, enrolled 63 children with CP aged between one and six years. The participants were infused with their own (autologous) umbilical cord blood or placebo.1  The order of infusion received, placebo versus autologous cord blood, was randomized and given one year apart.

Umbilical cord blood is the blood that remains in the baby’s umbilical cord and placenta. Cord blood is a rich source of blood stem cells and other important cells that can only be collected at birth.

One year after treatment, improvements in motor function and brain activity was noted among all participants who received their own umbilical cord blood. Of particular interest, children who received a cord blood infusion dose of at least 25 million cells for every one kilogram of body weight demonstrated greater improvements compared to children treated with a lower dose or placebo.1

The authors of the study concluded, “results of this trial suggest that when adequately dosed, an intravenous infusion of autologous umbilical cord blood improves whole brain connectivity and motor function in young children with cerebral palsy.”1

One out of every 400 babies born in Canada is diagnosed with CP and it is the most common physical disability in children.2  According to the Childhood Cerebral Palsy Integrated Neuroscience Discovery Network (CP-NET), CP refers to a group of developmental conditions which are all caused by some kind of injury to the brain. The injury can occur in the womb, during the birth, or in a child’s first years after birth usually from an infection or trauma to the brain.2

In addition to a number of potential causes, there is variety of motor controls that may be impaired and are unique to every child diagnosed with CP.  This uniqueness is highlighted in the diverse gains in motor function and whole brain connectivity demonstrated by the children in the Duke study.

As reported in Duke Health, improvements are different for each child and even subtle differences are significant, according to lead author of this landmark clinical trial and pediatric hematologist-oncologist, Jessica Sun, M.D. “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 Sun.

“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,” said Joanne Kurtzberg, M.D., senior author and director of Duke University’s Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplant Program.

The exciting results from the study support further research into the use of cord blood to potentially treat children with CP and other neurological disorders.

  1. Effect of Autologous Cord Blood Infusion on Motor Function and Brain Connectivity in Young children with Cerebral Palsy: A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial. Stem Cells Translational Medicine, 2017. Doi: 10.1002/sctm.17-0102
  2. http://cpnet.canchild.ca/en/about-cp
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Blog New Cord Blood Research Shows Improvements in Cerebral Palsy
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