Cerebral palsy (CP) is a broad category for a disorder caused by perinatal brain injury. A variety of factors can contribute to cerebral palsy, such as premature birth, uterine infection, a lack of nutritional needs during development, oxygen deprivation at birth, and genetic abnormalities. Since the cause of CP is widely variable, the damage steadily results in a variety of neuro-motor shortfalls, which are accompanied by other symptoms such as cognitive as well as visual impairments.
Nearly two per 1,000 babies are affected by CP disease, while neonatal care does not contribute to lowering the incidence. The degree of impairment is varied ranging from small disabilities to extensive, including hearing or sight, speech and behavior issues as well as communication issues. Isn’t this a huge challenge for the affected child and parents in our society?
Current Approaches To Treat CP
The current approaches still lack effective therapies to ease the speech and muscle movement issues faced by the patients. Several drugs used for addressing symptoms have side effects: for example, botulinum toxin A (Botox) injections for muscle spasticity have effects such as flu symptoms or bruising; drugs like Baclofen can have effects such as confusion or sleep disorders. Other treatments include surgery to address abnormalities of the bone, as well as non-drug therapies such as speech or occupational or physical approaches. Thus, while these approaches improve the quality of life and do not target the main causes, a comprehensive treatment is yet to be discovered that cures this disease.
The Rise of Stem Cell Therapy
We have seen reports of stem cells being used for several other diseases. So, what roles can stem cells play in treating cerebral palsy? Well, when stem cells are introduced to a patient, they can generate a positive response in the damaged cells or can create new cells among the damaged ones. One of the targets of the use of stem cell transplants is to repair the affected cells before the disease progresses and the child is completely affected. The use of stem cells from a patient also avoids the risk associated with transplants.
Several stem cells are finding use in clinical settings such as those from bone marrow: which include hematopoietic and mesenchymal cells and have been shown as safe. Clinical trials have shown promising results in targeting this disease, reporting the use of patients’ own stem cells injected into affected spinal cords. The study results have been shown to be promising with improvement in movement and muscle tone and minimum side effects.
Improvements Post-Stem Cell Therapy
In a study by Chahine, et al., after receiving stem cells, 11 out of 15 Cerebral Palsy patients improved significantly on the Gross Motor Function Classification System (GMFCS) scoring system. These patients showed improvements in:
- muscle control
- cognitive functions
- bladder control
While the studies from labs the world over have reported promising in the use of stem cell therapy for this weakening disease, the idea of using a patient’s own cells to address cerebral palsy doesn’t look far away. After all, childhood is meant to be enjoyed with a lot of dancing and sports and unrestricted movement! So why not give a shot of a patient’s own stem cells for such cerebral palsy affected children in a wheelchair to dance to the tune of their life?