Many children living with cerebral palsy developed the condition because they suffered a birth injury. Some accident, preventable or not, lead to a lack of oxygen to the developing fetal brain or newborn brain that caused damage. The results vary but include mild symptoms and mobility issues to severe disability and dependence on others for life.
Earlier detection, better treatments, and appropriate interventions are needed to manage cerebral palsy and reduce symptoms. Researchers now think they have a way to determine which newborns could benefit from stem cell therapy to treat and regenerate damaged brain tissue.
Hypoxic-Ischemic Brain Injury
A group of researchers from Loma Linda University and Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute are studying the potential for stem cell therapy in infants who experienced a hypoxic-ischemic brain injury, or HII.
HII can occur during pregnancy or during labor and delivery. A number of things may cause this lack of oxygen, from maternal illness to strangulation by the umbilical cord or a doctor’s mistake in using delivery tools with too much force.
Depending on the severity of the injury, a child may develop cerebral palsy. Symptoms may be mild, moderate or severe, again depending on the HII injury. The longer the baby is deprived of oxygen, the worse the disability.
Stem Cells to Heal Brain Injury – Determining Who Will Benefit
Stem cells are cells that can develop into any type of cell in the body. This ability to change means that stem cells can potentially treat a number of conditions, including brain damage. The idea is that the cells can be used to regenerate damaged cells and protect still healthy cells.
The current research into stem cell therapy for HII in infants is targeting a new method for determining which individuals could most benefit. The researchers used lab animal models and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to evaluate brain tissue and find out where the therapy would be most effective.
If this model works, the researchers could help improve the successes of clinical trials treating infants with brain damage. It could also prevent unnecessary treatments in patients for whom it is not likely to be effective.
The results of the study have been promising. They found that MRI images in lab rats showed areas of brain damage with completely dead cells and a ring of damaged cells. In those with a larger ring of damaged cells and a smaller core of dead cells benefitted much more from stem cell treatments.
Researchers are finding that this information from MRI scans helps to determine which infants should be included in therapy with stem cells to protect delicate brain tissue and slow or stop the progression of brain damage. Potentially, this could prevent conditions like cerebral palsy or at least limit the severity of symptoms and complications.
Living with cerebral palsy means having lifelong symptoms and disabilities. Stem cells do not yet represent a cure for the condition, but ongoing research like this study should help make effective treatments even better.