Can Stem Cell Therapy Be Used to Treat Cerebral Palsy?
When treating individuals with cerebral palsy, treatments are not a one-size-fits-all approach. Several methods are currently available to treat disabilities that result from the condition, from physical and recreational therapies to oral medications and surgeries. In recent years, researchers have discovered that stem cell transplantation may be an effective way to restore certain abilities in cerebral palsy patients, allowing them to enjoy better overall function and quality of life. Explore how stem cell therapy for cerebral palsy may be a treatment worth further study.
Cerebral Palsy and Stem Cells
Cerebral palsy refers to a group of disorders resulting from a brain injury that occurs shortly before or during birth. Many factors can contribute to this condition, including:
- Premature birth
- Lack of oxygen during the time of birth
- Infection in the uterus
- Malnutrition during development
- Genetic disorders
Cerebral palsy consistently leads to neuromotor problems such as walking, moving, and balancing difficulties. Additionally, cerebral palsy usually manifests itself in symptoms such as cognitive and visual impairments.
When the brain sustains an injury just before or during birth, its resident cells aren’t able to support its proper growth and development. As a result, oligodendrocytes and neurons die or fail to mature, while the white matter tracts that link different areas of the brain can become damaged. Additionally, the corticospinal tract, which connects the brain’s motor regions to the spinal cord to facilitate movement control, will most likely be impaired. Without properly functioning corticospinal tract connections, motor deficits can occur.
Understanding Stem Cell Transplantation
To begin with, there have been some common myths and misconceptions about stem cell sourcing. Research has received some pushback over the years from the belief that stem cells are harvested from aborted fetal tissue. This may be due to the fact that there are two basic types of human stem cells: embryonic and non-embryonic. Embryonic stem cells come from a developing embryo that’s only four or five days old —it had to be fertilized in a laboratory setting in a petri dish. Non-embryonic (or “adult”) stem cells come from bone marrow, the bloodstream, or a baby’s umbilical cord.
Stem cell transplantation is a form of regenerative therapy that can potentially replace nonfunctional or damaged brain cells in children with cerebral palsy. This therapy may also provide support for the remaining oligodendrocytes and neurons in the brain. Nevertheless, the process can be complicated since many types of stem cells bear distinctive characteristics. This is a developing area and more research is needed.
According to scientific research, stem cells could be induced to become specialized cell types. When these specialized stem cells are transplanted into the body, they may be able to provide support for repairing a damaged environment. In addition, stem cells can be modified to possess certain characteristics to enhance their therapeutic effects or express wound-healing properties that can reduce brain scars and promote recovery.
Characteristics of Stem Cells
Two main characteristics distinguish stem cells from other cells in the human body. First, stem cells are able to divide and create copies of themselves over the long term. Second, these cells can transform into more specialized functional cell types, such as brain, heart, or lung cells. These two characteristics of stem cells could have implications for regenerative therapy.
Since stem cells are able to make copies of themselves, their supply can be limitless. Given optimal conditions, stem cells can be grown in culture dishes and multiply into colonies of stem cells. After creating a large pool of stem cells, scientists can leverage them to create specialized cell types with certain desired characteristics and use them to treat specific disabilities in cerebral palsy patients.
Types of Stem Cells for Treating Cerebral Palsy
Researchers have identified several types of stem cells to be relevant to the treatment of cerebral palsy, including:
- Embryonic stem cells: Embryonic stem cells reside in the developing embryo. They’re pluripotent stem cells, meaning they can potentially differentiate into many types of cells in the human body. These stem cells can possess the potential for restoring damaged tissue due to their versatile differentiation capacity. Therefore, they may be effective in treating a range of disorders, including cerebral palsy.
- Neural precursor cells: Neural precursor cells exist in the central nervous system. These cells are known as multipotent stem cells since they’re only able to transform into cells found in the central nervous system. These stem cells can be obtained from a donor, grown in culture dishes, and transplanted into a patient. Since they can differentiate into brain cells, neural precursor cells may be able to appropriately integrate into a cerebral palsy patient’s injured brain and replace the nonfunctional and damaged cells.
- Mesenchymal stromal cells: Mesenchymal stromal cells have two primary origins: the bone marrow and the umbilical cord. Similar to neural precursor cells, these stem cells are also multipotent. They can transform into a variety of cell types that perform immune and structural roles in the body. Mesenchymal stromal cells possess immune-modulation properties and offer easy accessibility for usage.
Stem cell therapy for cerebral palsy is currently only an experimental treatment. More studies need to be conducted to confirm the feasibility and safety of this treatment method.
If you think your child or loved one acquired cerebral palsy because of medical malpractice, you may be eligible to file a case for compensation to pay for your child’s treatments. Contact us today and let the Cerebral Palsy Family Lawyers at Janet, Janet & Suggs, LLC help you seek the justice you deserve.
Trish Fletcher, MS, BSN, CRNP, NNP-BC, ALNC
Neonatal Nurse Practitioner | Birth Injury Legal Nurse Consultant
Tricia is a dedicated, focused, Birth Injury Legal Nurse Consultant and Neonatal Nurse Practitioner with more than 25 years of experience. Her strong clinical and critical thinking skills, paired with expertise caring for neonates in a Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), ensures meticulous medical records review. READ FULL BIO