Children With Cerebral Palsy May Benefit From Cell Transplants

This post was authored by Brian Nash and posted to The Eye Opener on April 21st, 2010.

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Since our firm at any given time handles a number of cases involving cerebral palsy, I am constantly trying to find useful information about new developments in therapy, research, procedures – anything relevant to the topic of preventing or helping those who suffer from cerebral palsy.

This morning I came across a report in Medical News Today -Children With Cerebral Palsy May Benefit From Cell Transplants – which, I must admit, I had not heard of before.  Apparently a group of Chinese researchers are now hypothesizing that a type of cell known as olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs) may hold promise for treatment of infants and those in early childhood with cerebral palsy.  

Clearly this research by the Chinese is not yet being conducted on a large scale level. Nevertheless, I thought I would report on this since the ‘science’ (in which I don’t purport to have expertise) seems logical and potentially noteworthy. With those qualifiers in mind, here is what’s behind this ‘thinking.’  Rather than try to give you the layman’s recap of OEC’s, I’ll let the article speak for itself.

Transplanted OECs, known to retain exceptional plasticity and promote olfactory blood vessel growth while offering neuroprotection, have been demonstrated to be potentially useful for a number of neurological disorders, including multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury and amyotrophc lateral sclerosis (ALS).

So what does this mean for those who suffer from cerebral palsy? The corresponding author Dr. Hongyun Huang of the Beijing Rehabilitation Center provides the details:  ”We conducted a randomized, controlled clinical trial with 33 volunteers, 14 of whom completed the six-month study, to determine if transplanted OECs were effective in treating children and adolescents with CP, given that CP shares many of the same features of other degenerative diseases.”

According to Dr. Huang, a protocol was developed from this hypothesis based on their knowledge of a key location “in the brain’s frontal lobes (defined as the “Key Point for Neural network Restoration (KPNNR)” based on previous studies) for injecting OECs and that the injected OECs would produce Schwann cell-like myelin sheaths around demyelinated axons.”  Demylinated axons are often referenced as a rather consistent finding when imaging the brains of victims of cerebral palsy.

Buoyed by the findings of this admittedly small trial group, Dr. Huang reports:

“Our results showed that transplanting OECs into CP patients could improve the neurological function of the patients and did not cause significant side effects. The procedure may be a plausible method to treat this as yet incurable disorder.”

For anyone who saw the recent 60 Minutes report (21st Century Snake Oil) on charlatans advocating a cure through injection of stem cells (for virtually any malady under the sun), caution takes center stage with all such reports.  No – I’m not suggesting that the Chinese study is voodoo medicine by any stretch of the imagination.  For those who keep up with this field of stem cell research and its potential applicability to treatment of cerebral palsy, you are aware of the recent (early February of this year) announcement by the FDA of an approved trial for stem cell research for victims of cerebral palsy. In addition to our having reported on this FDA-approved trial, I have also reported on a collaborative research program called Newborn Possibilities Program in Arizona, which is yet another collaborative effort using stem cell research concepts to improve the lives of these children.

While hope reigns eternal that meaningful research will lead to meaningful cure or improvement in the quality of life for cerebral palsy victims, Cell Transplantation associate editor Dr. Cesar V. Borlongan offers the following words of caution concerning the Chinese (and other) stem cell clinical trial:

In parallel with recently FDA-approved US clinical trials of cell therapy for adult stroke and cerebral palsy, this clinical study in China advances the use of stem cells for treating brain disorders, but a very careful assessment of this experimental treatment needs to be exercised in order to gauge its safety and efficacy.

Through social networking media such as LinkedIn and Twitter, I have come across some fascinating people who have devoted their lives to stem cell research.  If perchance any of my ‘connections’ and ‘followers’ out there have further information about this Chinese research and other stem cell research programs involving cerebral palsy, I would greatly appreciate your sharing your information with the Nash Law Firm community of readers by posting helpful comments to this blog.

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