Autism is a spectrum of disorders characterized by impaired social interactions, mood alterations, repetitive stereotyped behavioral patterns, communication problems, cognitive delays, and metabolic problems in autistic patients.
Autism is a neural developmental disorder along with weak immune system and neuro-inflammation. Autistic patients normally have impaired neurons controlling memory, speech, concentration, and attention thereby show reduced brain reactions. It is considered that the symptoms of autism can be improved and the disease progression can be checked with the accurate repair of the damaged brain cells. Till date, there is no effective cure for autism. Treatment of autism is usually divided into two categories: educational interventions and medical managements. None of these approaches are able to cure the disease completely, but can provide a better quality of life by improving social, intellectual, and physical deficits and also improving immunity and functional independence.
Nowadays, Stem cell therapy is considered as a promising treatment alternative for autism.
Stem cell therapy is typically based on the unique ability of stem cells to control immune system and to repair damaged cells and tissues, particularly the brain tissues, thus representing the highest potential for the future of molecular and regenerative medicine. Stem cell treatment enhances the flow of blood and oxygen (blood-perfusion) to the brain, restores impaired neurons, and forms new arteries. Out of different stem cell subtypes, mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) provide a valuable tool for the treatment of various diseases linked with inflammation, tissue damage, and lead to regeneration and repair consequently.
MSCs are multipotent stem cells; they can self-renew by dividing and developing into different specialized cells such as neurons, glial cells, blood cells etc. both in vivo and in vitro under specific conditions. MSCs are different from hematopoietic stem cells. Generally, adult stem cells such as human umbilical cord tissue-derived allogeneic mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are used for the treatment of autism. They provide positive impact on autistic patients through the following mechanisms:
- Stimulating plastic response to the damaged tissues of the host
- Synthesizing and releasing anti-inflammatory cytokines
- Integrating into existing neural and synaptic network
- Increasing blood supply to the damaged tissues by forming new blood cells
After administration, MSCs migrate into the sites of injury, secrete growth factors, which help to regulate the immune system, reduce inflammation, and restore damaged neurons and other cells in autistic patients. Formation of new brain cells results in the renewal of impaired neuron connections, which accelerates brain reactions. This in turn, reduces the neurologic symptoms of the patients and improves their intellectual capacity. Stem cell therapy is thought to improve motor skills, social skills, and cognitive ability of the autistic patients and thus enables the patients to respond to the signals and improves their communication ability.
Several clinical trials have indicated that stem cell therapy with MSCs in autistic patients is a safe and well-tolerable method. Immediate or long term side effects are not known. Mostly adult stem cells are used and thus there is a minimum probability of rejection or fatal side effects such as allergic or immunological reactions immediately after transplantation or during follow-up period. Transplanted stem cells improve neural hypoperfusion and thus reduce neural tissue damage and help to improve the quality of life of the patients.