Umbilical cords are rich in valuable stem cells, the cells that can transform into nearly any type of cell. Research into using stem cells is ongoing but has already proven useful in treating many conditions, from cancer to autoimmune disorders. A recent trial from Australia recently proved that using a sibling’s cord stem cells to treat cerebral palsy is safe. The treatment also shows some effectiveness, with limitations.
Umbilical Cord Stem Cells and Disease
Stem cells are the only kinds of cells in the body that can transform into other types of cells. Skin cells, for instance, always remain skin cells, while a stem cell can change into a skin cell, a blood cell, or any other.
This unique characteristic makes stem cells important for treating diseases. They can be used to regenerate tissue and repair damage. In leukemia treatment, stem cells replenish the body with healthy, non-cancerous white blood cells.
Doctors and researchers can harvest stem cells from a living donor’s bone marrow, but umbilical cord blood contains ten times more. It is also easier to harvest stem cells from an umbilical cord shortly after birth. Furthermore, adults stem cells have limitations on their ability to transform, while umbilical stem cells do not.
Umbilical Cord Stem Cells and Cerebral Palsy
The idea of treating cerebral palsy with stem cells is that they could help regenerate damaged brain tissue that causes the condition. Researchers also hope that it could be a preventative measure. If a baby suffered hypoxia, loss of oxygen to the brain, shortly before, during, or after birth, stem cells could protect the brain from significant damage.
Using Sibling Cord Stem Cells is Safe
Studies of umbilical cord stem cell treatment in cerebral palsy show promise, but safety is important. A group of researchers in Australia, led by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, recently used sibling cord cells in several children to determine the safety of the procedure.
The trial involved just 12 children but showed promising results. Six of the patients had minor adverse reactions that were treatable and manageable. The researchers concluded that the procedure is safe but should be conducted in a hospital with the ability to treat any minor side effects.
The participants involved ranged in age from one to sixteen years, and researchers followed them for one year after the treatment. In terms of effectiveness, age was a major factor. The older children did not see much improvement in developmental delays. However, the younger participants did seem improvements in development and symptoms.
One parent of a child in the trial described her as being unable to sit on her own before the treatment to being able to sit, stand, and run after receiving stem cells from her sister.
Umbilical cord blood is not a perfect treatment, but for infants and younger children, receiving a sibling’s donation could help. The earlier the infusion can be done, the better the results, and thanks to the research it is now known to be safe. Thanks to modern technology, parents have the option to bank cord blood after birth to save it for the child or future children.