Written by Jeff Meyer on 11 Mar 2016
Cerebral palsy is an umbrella term for a number of different movement disorders that permanently affect a person from the moment they’re born. That’s because scientists believe the roots of the disorder either begin while the child is in the womb or during their birth. Those with cerebral palsy can have difficulty doing everything from walking to talking to simply controlling the movement of their muscles.
While there is no cure for cerebral palsy at the moment, some very exciting research is underway that could change that.
Umbilical Cord Blood Could Provide the Answer
In what will be a medical trial that is happening for the first time on the entire planet, Australian children who are suffering from cerebral palsy will be given umbilical blood at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne. If effective, the results could permanently change with how we approach such a debilitating disease.
Researchers involved with the study hope to confirm that stem cells from umbilical cord blood can actually repair the brain injuries that lead to cerebral palsy. In Australia, this disease is the most common type of physical disability found in children.
While the trial isn’t actually underway yet, the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute has already begun recruiting children with cerebral palsy for it. They are looking for those whose families had other children and stored the umbilical cord blood of those siblings in private banks.
Unprecedented Potential for Those with Cerebral Palsy
According to Professor Iona Novak of the Cerebral Alliance Research Institute, the significance of this study cannot be overstated.
“Unfortunately we hear of many Australian children with (cerebral palsy) and their families travelling overseas to receive unregulated stem cell treatments at great cost,” Professor Novak said. “This study, using cord blood which has been stored under Australian government-regulated conditions, is an important first step towards potentially improving treatment.”
Why Umbilical Cord Blood?
Aside from the aforementioned prerequisites for this trial, the researchers will be using children who are between one and 10 years old. For the study, these kids will be infused with the umbilical cord blood.
The reason for this is because this blood is so rich in stem cells. Those stem cells have the capability to actually grow into other cells in the body as well, making them a potential pathway to recovery for those who are struggling with cerebral palsy.
Though that’s the hope, it will be two years before the study concludes and we know the results. During that time, researchers will be monitoring the motor skills of the children involved to look for any improvements.
Carly Stewart, a Melbourne mother whose eight-year-old son, Lachlan, has cerebral palsy and is taking part in the study said she was glad she decided to store the umbilical cord of her boy’s siblings.
“We are excited about this Australian trial commencing and the promising future of this much-talked about treatment,” Stewart said. “I encourage other families to store their children’s cord blood.”
Private Banks Essential for This Test
The study is being funded by Cell Care—the country’s largest private bank of umbilical cord blood—and the foundation.
The role of a private bank in this study is invaluable as public banks are essentially inaccessible by researchers. The blood in those banks is meant solely for treating disorders like Leukemia. Those samples cannot be used for any new therapies that haven’t been tested yet.
Unfortunately, we have to wait at least two years before we’ll know if the infusion of umbilical cord could signal the end of cerebral palsy as we know it. However, if Professor Novak is right, there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic.