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Scientists and researchers are continuously working on a cure for cerebral palsy. Much of the current research focuses on developing a better understanding of the disorder, identifying risk factors and causes, and finding and creating advanced treatment options.
About Cerebral Palsy Research
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and its counterpart, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), lead the majority of cerebral palsy research in the U.S.
The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) is also actively researching this disorder.
There is currently no federal funding source dedicated to cerebral palsy research. A bill introduced in 2022 would change that. Led by Tennessee Congressman Steve Cohen, the Cerebral Palsy Research Program Act would create a CP research program within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In some instances, genetic defects are responsible for a child developing cerebral palsy. Scientists are attempting to identify how genetic factors may do this by collecting DNA samples from those who currently have the condition, along with samples from their family members.
Sophisticated screening techniques are used to evaluate the collected samples. Scientists can then search for links that might explain the way cerebral palsy develops in individuals with certain specific genetic abnormalities.
A study from 2022 found that as many as 25% of children diagnosed with cerebral palsy had an underlying genetic condition or mutations. This kind of information will lead to better, more accurate diagnoses of CP and more tailored and effective treatments.
Stem Cell Therapy
Stem cells are cells that can become any type of cell in the body. Stem cell research includes using these cells to regenerate or repair damaged tissues in the body. For a child with cerebral palsy, repairs to damaged brain and nerve tissue could improve symptoms.
Research using umbilical cord stem cell infusions is ongoing in clinical trials. Outcomes so far indicate that children with stem cell therapy in addition to standard treatment have greater improvements in motor function. In the short-term, the therapy seems to be safe.
White Matter Damage Research
Cerebral palsy is most commonly caused by damage to the white matter in the brain, specifically in the area surrounding the ventricles. This is the part of the brain most commonly affected in cerebral palsy.
Researchers are working to develop effective strategies to prevent white matter brain damage. They are currently using mouse models and cell-based therapies in an attempt to prevent the perinatal white matter damage that causes cerebral palsy.
One encouraging area of study is the use of therapeutic hypothermia to limit brain damage and its effects. The therapy involves lowering an infant’s core temperature. This seems to slow damage, and initial research indicates it can reduce disability in children at risk.
Botulinum toxin, more commonly known as Botox, is frequently used to treat children with cerebral palsy who suffer from severe spastic movements. Scientists continue to research the benefits of Botox, particularly its effectiveness in helping with daily vibration treatments and improving the bone structure of the lower leg.
In late 2022, researchers in Australia published a study of etanercept injections to prevent cerebral palsy. Also known as Enbrel, etanercept is an anti-inflammatory medication. Local inflammation occurs in the brains of some babies born prematurely, which might be the source of brain damage.
The researchers used an animal model and showed that an injection within three days of suffering oxygen deprivation could prevent severe brain injury. The window of three days is much longer than any existing treatment to prevent damage and CP.
Constraint-Induced Therapy (CIT)
Constraint-induced therapy (CIT) is a promising new form of therapy for cerebral palsy. It involves putting the child’s stronger limb in a cast, which forces the weaker limb to work more during routine activities and exercises.
NICHD-backed research on CIT is helping physicians determine the most effective methods to help children, as well as the various levels of training the child’s weak limbs should undergo to achieve the best results.
Other treatment options for cerebral palsy that NIH is currently researching include:
- Systemic hypothermia
- Functional electrical stimulation (FES)
Most medical research begins in clinical trials, human studies of new medications, treatment protocols, diagnostic techniques, and more.
The National Institutes of Health currently lists 234 trials related to cerebral palsy that are currently recruiting patients. Some examples include:
- Investigation of Trunk Control in Spastic Cerebral Palsy
- The Effect of Hippotherapy Simulator in Cerebral Palsy
- Long-Term Outcome of Hip Interventions for Children with Cerebral Palsy
- Virtual Reality vs Functional Strength Training in Children with Cerebral Palsy
- Feasibility of an In-home Standing and Walking Intervention for Infants With and at High Risk of Cerebral Palsy
- Innovative Robotic Gait Trainer Use to Enable Walking in Children With Cerebral Palsy GMFCS III and IV
Non-Government Research on Cerebral Palsy
In addition to in-depth research provided by the NIH, non-governmental agencies also conduct research in an attempt to help children with cerebral palsy live better lives.
The March of Dimes
The March of Dimes is a non-profit organization that is carrying out ongoing studies aimed at preventing premature births and birth defects, both of which heighten the risk of cerebral palsy.
The Cerebral Palsy Research Foundation
The Cerebral Palsy Research Foundation, also a non-profit organization, assists in funding studies and white brain matter research. This will enhance the current understanding of the causes of cerebral palsy, formulate better treatment options and ultimately find a cure for the disorder.
If your child has cerebral palsy, it’s important to keep up with the latest research. Talk to your medical team about any studies that could help your child and any available clinical trials.
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- Cerebral Palsy: Hope Through Research. (2019, November 18). National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke | National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
Retrieved from: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Hope-Through-Research/Cerebral-Palsy-Hope-Through-Research
- NINDS/NICHD Strategic Plan for Cerebral Palsy Research. (2018, December 12). National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke | National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
Retrieved from: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/About-NINDS/Strategic-Plans-Evaluations/Strategic-Plans/2017-NINDS-NICHD-Strategic-Plan-Cerebral-Palsy
- Congressman Steve Cohen. (2022, March 29). Congressman Cohen Introduces Bipartisan Cerebral Palsy Research Program Act.
Retrieved from: https://cohen.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/congressman-cohen-introduces-bipartisan-cerebral-palsy-research-program
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Retrieved from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/acn3.51506
- Eggenberger, S., Boucard, C., Schoeberlein, A., Guzman, R., Limacher, A., Surbek, D., and Mueller, M. (2019, October 26). Stem Cell Treatment and Cerebral Palsy: Systemic Review and Meta-Analysis. World J. Stem Cells. 11(10), 891-903.
Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6828595/
- Botulinum Toxin in the Management of Childrenwith Cerebral Palsy. (n.d.). PubMed Central (PMC) National Institutes of Health.
Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6682585/
- Lear, C.A., Lear, B.A., Davidson, J.O., Sae-Jiw, J., LLoyd, J.M., Dhillon, S.K., Gunn, A.J., Bennet, L. (2022, September 10). Tumour Necrosis Factor Blockade After Asphyxia in Foetal Sheep Ameliorates Cystic White Matter Injury. Brain. https://doi.org/10.1093/brain/awac331.
Retrieved from: https://academic.oup.com/brain/advance-article/doi/10.1093/brain/awac331/6695386?login=false
- Christmas, P. (2019). Constraint-induced movement therapy for children with hemiplegic cerebral palsy. Paediatrics and Child Health, 29(11), 495-497.
Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paed.2019.07.014
- National Institutes of Health. (2023, April 10). Recruiting Studies | Cerebral Palsy.
Retrieved from: https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/results?cond=Cerebral+Palsy&term=&type=&rslt=&recrs=a&age_v=&gndr=&intr=&titles=&outc=&spons=&lead=&id=&cntry=&state=&city=&dist=&locn=&rsub=&strd_s=&strd_e=&prcd_s=&prcd_e=&sfpd_s=&sfpd_e=&rfpd_s=&rfpd_e=&lupd_s=&lupd_e=&sort=
- White Matter Brain Research. (n.d.). Cerebral Palsy Foundation.
Retrieved from: https://www.yourcpf.org/white-matter-brain-research/