What to Know About Stem Cell Transplant as a Treatment for Cerebral Palsy

Alternative, Cerebral Palsy Therapies

Stem cells have the remarkable potential to develop into many different types of cells, such as muscle, brain, or red blood cells. Although more research is needed, researchers have published findings suggesting that repair to the brain may be possible—and that stem cell treatment for CP may improve a child’s outlook.

How Can Stem Cells Help Treat Children With CP?

CP is usually the result of a perinatal central nervous system insult that creates damage to the brain. Cerebral palsy may be caused by factors such as:
Lack of oxygen and/or blood flow to the baby during labor and delivery

  • Genetic aberrations
  • Infection in the uterus
  • Lack of nutritional support during a child’s development
  • Premature birth
  • Negligence resulting in a preventable birth injury and/or medical error

Though the underlying cause of the brain injury varies for each child affected, the injury typically leads to neuro-motor deficits. Stem cell treatment for CP aims to allow the brain to repair this damage. Stem cell transplant for cerebral palsy is a regenerative therapy that could replace damaged, non-functional cells in the brain of a person with CP. These treatment techniques could also provide support to neurons and oligodendrocytes cells—the cells that support the nervous system—that remain.

Types of Stem Cells

There are two basic types of human stem cells:

  1. Embryonic stem (ES) cells
  2. Non-embryonic, or “adult” stem cells

Where Do Stem Cells Come From?

Regenerative transplants may use stem cells from:

  • Bone marrow
  • Bloodstream
  • Umbilical cord

Types of Stem Cell Treatments

  • Autologous: Stem cells are obtained from an individual, processed, and then transplanted back into the same individual.
  • Allogenic: Stem cells are obtained from an individual, processed, and then transplanted into a different individual.
  • Xenogeneic: Stem cells are removed from one species, processed, and then transplanted into an individual from another species.

What Are Cord Blood Stem Cells?

After birth, cord blood remains in the umbilical cord and placenta. It contains hematopoietic (blood) stem cells (HSCs), rare cells normally found in bone marrow. HSCs form blood and immune cells and can make every type of cell in the blood. Cord blood stem cells are considered “adult” stem cells—stem cells collected from an individual after they are born are not considered fetal or embryonic.

Stem cells from perinatal tissues offer enormous potential to treat many diseases and disorders. Sources of these cells include:

  • Amnion
  • Amniotic fluid
  • Cord blood
  • Cord tissue/Wharton’s jelly
  • Placental blood
  • Placental tissue

Today, umbilical cord blood (UCB) is a popular source of adult stem cells for research into therapies for many diseases and injuries. Cells collected from umbilical cords may also hold therapeutic potential to treat children with cerebral palsy.

How Does Stem Cell Transplant for Cerebral Palsy Work?

A doctor performs stem cell treatment for cerebral palsy by injecting stem cells into a child either via a vein (intravenously) or via lumbar puncture in the child’s spinal column (intrathecally).

Researchers hope that this stem cell treatment for CP will allow injected stem cells to develop into nerve cells, which can then build connections with other cells. Once the nerve cells build connections, they will need to have the capacity to deliver messages to the muscles that control movement.

A combination of stem cell transplant for cerebral palsy and physical therapy may give a child the best chance for success.

Can Stem Cells Cure Cerebral Palsy?

Researchers are exploring how stem cell treatment for CP may improve a patient’s outlook.

Current Research

Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg and her clinical team treated 63 children diagnosed with spastic cerebral palsy in Phase 2 clinical trials from Duke University. The trial data was reported in the study, “Effect of Autologous Cord Blood Infusion on Motor Function and Brain Connectivity in Young Children with Cerebral Palsy: A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial,” published in the journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine. The team is currently promoting an expanded access protocol for umbilical cord blood infusions for children with brain injuries.

Augusta University

Researchers at Augusta University (formerly known as Georgia Regents University), in partnership with Cord Blood Registry, are conducting a landmark FDA-regulated clinical trial to evaluate the use of a cord blood stem cell infusion for the treatment of cerebral palsy in children. Dr. James Carroll, the principal investigator of the study, notes that “autologous stem cell transplantation, in which the transplant recipient is also the donor, is the safest form of stem cell transplantation because it carries virtually no threat of immune system rejection.”

University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston

Researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, in collaboration with Cord Blood Registry, are starting an innovative FDA-regulated clinical trial to investigate two forms of stem cell therapy in children diagnosed with cerebral palsy. The study aims to compare the safety and efficacy of an intravenous infusion of banked cord blood stem cells to freshly harvested bone marrow stem cells. Dr. Charles Cox, the principal investigator of the study, notes that “there is preclinical data indicating that the ongoing neuroinflammatory response is a driver of further injury in CP, so the hope is to reduce this neuroinflammation. Our goal is to break the cycle of inflammation and injury,” adds Cox.

Research is still ongoing, but stem cell transplant for cerebral palsy offers exciting potential for CP treatment. Meanwhile, if your ongoing medical bills to treat your child’s CP are becoming too much and you feel that your child’s situation arose from medical malpractice, contact the Cerebral Palsy Family Lawyers at Janet, Janet & Suggs. Our lawyers can determine if you have a case for potential monetary compensation.



Claire Surles, RN
Reviewed by:
Claire Surles, RN
Registered Nurse

Claire comes to JJS after a 10-year career as a labor and delivery nurse. She dedicated her hospital efforts to advocating for families, providing the safest birthing environment possible as Newborn Admission Nurse at UMMC St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson, Maryland. Her passion for helping those who experienced losses at any stage of gestation led to her appointment as Coordinator of the hospital’s ROOTS perinatal loss program. READ FULL BIO

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