The Marcus Foundation, an Atlanta-based philanthropic organization, has awarded Duke Medicine $15 million to support an innovative research program that explores the use of umbilical cord blood cells to treat autism, stroke, cerebral palsy and related brain disorders.

The award will fund the first two years of a planned five-year, $41 million project by Joanne Kurtzberg, M.D., chief scientific and medical officer of Duke’s Robertson Cell and Translational Therapy Program, and Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D., director of the Duke Center for Autism Diagnosis and Treatment.

The project will consist of a series of clinical trials using umbilical cord blood cells to treat a total of 390 children and adults with autism, 100 children with cerebral palsy and 90 adults with stroke.

Kurtzberg’s previous research has shown that cord blood cells can reduce inflammation and signal normal cells to repair damage in areas of the brain affected by inherited pediatric brain diseases. Kurtzberg has also reported a similar benefit of cord blood cells in children with hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy.

Building on those research results, the new study will try to determine whether cord blood cells will have the same effect in cases of autism and stroke.

The initial phase of the program — a preliminary trial involving 20 pediatric subjects with autism using their own banked cord blood — is already under way. It will conclude with Phase II trials using donated cord blood in children with autism and cerebral palsy and adults with stroke.

More details about this project, and how to participate in these trials, are available by following the link here.

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Duke University Cord Blood Researchers Receive $15 Million Donation