Posted on Nov 10, 2018, 5 p.m.
1 in 59 children are identified with autism spectrum disorder occurring in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups, with a prevalence rate between 1-2%. Research using stem cell therapy is still in very early stages, but has promising clinical data is beginning to be released.
Some diets, therapy, and other techniques all have shown promise for mitigating the effects of autism, but unfortunately an actual cure for the condition has yet to be found. Emerging stem cell therapies suggest that there may be a lasting treatment for autism on the horizon.
To understand the new approach to treatment it may help to understand stem cell therapy and autism with its theoretical causes and how stem cells may help to ameliorate them to know why the future looks good using this prospective approach.
In many conditions the complex stem cell treatments are theoretical, however scientist do have firm understandings of what stem cells are and how they work. Stem cells are basically master stem cells which are undifferentiated, meaning that they have ability to turn into a wide range of more specialized cells. For example hematopoietic stem cells give rise to every kind of blood stem cell within the body; and mesenchymal stem cells have exceptional capacity to reduce inflammation, fibrosis, and impact the immune system in a positive manner. Other stem cells control bodily tissues and can be found anywhere in the body such as fat, skin, teeth, heart, liver, and other tissue types.
Cutting edge breakthroughs have revealed how to force stem cells to revert into even less differentiated states to form induced pluripotent stem cells that can become any tissue within the human body. These unique cells can be injected into affected areas by physicians to help rebuild tissue from the ground up by repairing damaged body parts. Such stem cell therapy for autism proposes to rewrite bodily systems that cause autism.
Causes of autism remain largely not understood and disagreed upon, with exception to research pointing to 2 key agents: 1) Chronic inflammation in the gut caused by immune system malfunction; and 2) Reduced oxygen levels in specific parts of the brain. With other potential causes including brain tumor, brain swelling, missing metabolic enzymes, Fragile X syndrome, and measles during pregnancy of the mother.
Emerging research points to stem cells as being a promising treatment for autism whatever its cause(s) may be. Certain stem cell types reduce inflammation, replacing malfunctioning gut cells with healthy stem cells which will replicate indefinitely could mean that the problem may be unlikely to recur; the same may prove to be the case for brain cells, enzyme and hormone production systems, and more.
Stem cells used for autism is not fully understood but has the basic sequence of events: 1) Stem cells are either autologously harvested from the patient or are allogeneic taken from a donor or blood bank. 2) Stem cells are prepared for injection by separating out the meaningful cells to combine with any necessary hormones and growth factors. 3) Once manipulated the stem cells are then either injected or infused into the patient. 4) Patients are monitored for improvements. Some patients may need multiple doses of stem cells to get levels high enough for the cells to be able to work in the affected area, which overtime will gravitate towards the affected area to instinctively repair the malfunctioning systems.
As with any medical process stem cell therapy may carry some risks such as possible reactions to the injectable fluids as often preservatives are used out of necessity; and some patients may experience rejection with allogeneic donated cells being targeted as invaders by body defences. In some cases patients may become attacked by donor stems cells which causes a variety of unpleasant symptoms known as graft vs host disease. However, overall many have found the success levels and benefits to be high enough to warrant risking any possible negative outcome. In cases such as autism where it is so overwhelming it completely compromises the child and family, most feel it is worth a shot.
Researchers have heard the call for help and are trying hard to respond with clinical trials involving stem cells for autism and many other conditions. Powers of allogeneic and autologous use of stems cells has demonstrated powerful effects for autism which prompted institutions such as Duke University to undertake their own trials to determine the widespread use of this potential autism treatment in the future.
Led by Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg UofD clinical trials are being conducted to evaluate capacity of autologous and allogeneic umbilical cord blood for improving symptoms that have been associated with autism spectrum disorder. Phase 2 clinical trials enrolling 165 subjects are underway with an estimated completion date of December 2018. At least 2 other clinical trials are additionally being conducted using cord blood stem cells as potential treatment approaches for autism.
At least 19 other trials are being conduction exploring the use of other types of stem cells for the treatment of autism; these clinical trial can be reviewed on the global clinical registry site at www.ClinicalTrials.gov .
The Stem Cell Institute in Panama completed a clinical trial in August 2017, and are one of several medical clinics that are offering stem cell treatments for autism while simultaneously conducting additional formal clinical trials.
Those wishing to enroll their children in a trial need to speak with their pediatrician, or explore stem cell clinics the offer stem cell clinics that offer additional treatments often without FDA approval, however insurance companies typically will not cover these medical expenses.
Treatment for adults may be a longer wait as most research has been focused on autistic children. Medical clinics may be more accessible for adult patients with autism.
Whatever approach is taken in regards to stem cell therapy, it is still best to take caution. The facts are while treatments such as these do show tremendous promise they have not been around long enough to generate the amounts of long term anecdotal and empirical evidence to provide concrete evidence of being completely safe, but no one can deny the hope inspiring potential they hold especially when paired with breakthroughs and emerging studies.
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