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Stem cell therapy presents a promising treatment option for children with cerebral palsy. However, this treatment is still in its infancy and much research needs to be performed. Currently, there are clinical trials of this therapy happening in Georgia and Texas.
What Are Stem Cells?
Stem cells are primitive cells that have the ability to develop into different cell types, and in turn, form different tissues. There are two types of stem cells, which include:
Adult Stem Cells
Adult stem cells are found in people who are already grown and are capable of supplying new cells in order to repair damaged tissues.
Embryonic Stem Cells
Embryonic stem cells (ESCs) are stem cells found in the early embryonic period. ESCs develop in the mass of the blastocyst and are able to spread and grow into different cell types.
What is a Stem Cell Transplant for Children With Cerebral Palsy?
During a stem cell transplant, a physician injects stem cells into the child either intravenously, via a vein, or intrathecally, via lumbar puncture into the spinal column.  The hope is that the stem cells will develop into nerve cells that can build connections with other cells.
Furthermore, once the cells make connections with other cells, they need to be able to deliver messages to the muscles that control movement. This progression is crucial to the treatment’s success.
Physical therapy is almost always recommended after stem cell therapy. While medical experts state that there is difficulty in identifying which therapy helps more, the stem cell therapy or physical therapy, the combination of both gives the child the best chances of success.
Current Animal Research on Stem Cell Therapy
Numerous research strategies are used to focus on finding the most effective stem cell therapy for children with cerebral palsy. Scientists and physicians test different types of stem cells in animals with brain damage to see what they do.
Some studies have shown that stem cells can reduce symptoms and reduce animal brain damage.  However, the reason this happens is still not quite understood. Furthermore, since animals are not human, the results are never an exact match.
Stem Cell Research to Learn More About Cerebral Palsy
Pluripotent stem cells, including embryonic stem cells, are being studied and used to create different types of brain cells. These cells may help provide valuable information about how cerebral palsy works. In turn, medical professionals are hoping it can bring new and improved forms of treatment.
Drugs to Help Target Stem Cells in Children’s Brains
Research is also being performed on medications that may stimulate the production of new stem cells in the body. This type of treatment would allow the child’s own stem cells to be used in repairing their damaged tissues. This research is currently in the clinical trial phase, which means that the focus of the research is to determine if the therapy would be safe for all patients.
Scientists suggest that it will likely take a combination of treatments, both traditional and new, to improve outcomes for those with cerebral palsy.
Keep in mind that stem cell research for cerebral palsy is still in its early stages. Although it shows promise, more research is needed before it becomes a universal treatment for children with cerebral palsy.
- Treatment of Cerebral Palsy with Stem Cells: A Report of 17 Cases. (n.d.). PubMed Central (PMC).
Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4961108/
- Treating childhood traumatic brain injury with autologous stem cell therapy. (n.d.). PubMed Central (PMC).
Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6086119/