Cerebral palsy is a broad term used to describe a condition that affects cognition and muscle functions and occurs due to an abnormal development of the brain or injury during or before birth. Such children find it difficult to perform coordinated movements with their muscles such as walking or grasping or tying their laces. In other words, what is considered a cakewalk or a regular activity becomes an arduous task for cerebral palsy affected children! The symptoms are varied ranging from difficulty in eating, rolling eyes to even disabilities in the intellect. The condition also causes a heavy social and financial burden on the patient as well as his/her family.
Current therapies for cerebral palsy include medication that can control muscle spasticity but has several side effects: botox injections for muscle function are associated with pain and bruising or diazepam (Valium, a muscle relaxant) can cause nausea and dependency. There are additional therapies such as physiotherapy, exercises, and recreation that can improve the quality of life.
With a search for a suitable treatment that addresses the root of the cause in this case damages cells of central nervous system, researchers are looking at stem cell therapy. Stem cells have been shown to be multipotent properties, in addition to being regenerative. Experimental studies have also shown them to have the ability to differentiate into diverse cells, as well as the cells of the nervous system. Stem cells seem an ideal approach to regenerate the various chemical molecules and signals in the brain by the use of stem cells isolated from a patient’s body. But like all other treatments, what is the success rate? What are the side effects? Let us see glimpses of research from around the world.
A study in 2016, scientists used the bone marrow cells isolated from bone marrow of the patients and have been shown to be safe. The stem cells were isolated from bone marrow of patients, purified and injected back. Nearly 70% of the patients showed no adverse effects. Let’s look at the positive effects: 40% showed improvement in spasticity while 27% patients’ functions improved so much that they could become independent!
In another study reported in 2015, patients were treated with stem cells of the bone marrow into their spinal cord. The motor functions or activities involving muscles were markedly improved in the patients with also an increase in muscle tone.
A recent published in 2017, reported that the infusion of autologous, also referred to as patient’s own cord blood into children with cerebral palsy resulted in an improvement in the functioning of the brain as well as overall activities that require muscle activity and coordination.
While reports published from labs and clinical trials have been promising mainly in terms of effective treatment as seen by improved muscle tone and the ability of patients to handle their activities, there are few side effects, which are mild, like fever and vomiting, in comparison to the side effects associated with the medication employed.
Thus, we can say that stem cell therapy for cerebral palsy is here to stay and can be augmented with physiotherapy and recreation therapy to enable children to dance to their dreams and not spend their childhood on a wheelchair or dependent on a caretaker!