Could umbilical cord blood cells be the solution against cerebral palsy?

Cerebral palsy (CP) is a non-progressive neurological disorder which affects body movement and muscle coordination, causing partial or total impairment of motor function. The location and extent of this impairment vary greatly between individuals. It can affect one limb or all of them, as well as the face and oral motor functioning, gross and fine motor skills, reflex, posture and balance. These impairments can be caused by 1) an excessive tightness of muscles or hypertonia (spastic CP), 2) problems in coordination (ataxic CP), 3) inability to control muscle tone causing hypertonia and hypotonia (athetoid CP), or all of the above (mixed CP). The motor impairments caused by cerebral palsy are often accompanied by other complications, such as seizures, vision or hearing dysfunction and intellectual impairment.

In fact, cerebral palsy is not one disease but a blanket term for a group of permanent movement disorders that appear in early childhood, caused by brain injury or abnormal brain development, affecting the person’s ability to control muscle contraction. Some of the known causes include: problems during intrauterine development caused by infection or exposure to radiation; brain hypoxia before or during birth; trauma or complications during birth or soon after; and genetic factors, which account for about 2% of all cases. The main risk factor for developing cerebral palsy is preterm birth, since about half of all children who develop it were born prematurely,

The quality of life of patients with cerebral palsy can be significantly improved thanks to therapy, orthotic aids, and drugs to control seizures and alleviate pain. Unfortunately, though, there is still no cure for cerebral palsy.

A Possible Solution?

Recent studies have started to shed light on the possibility of effectively addressing cerebral palsy using umbilical cord blood cells. Researchers from the Monash University and the Hudson Institute of Medical Research in Australia used different types of umbilical cord blood cells in rat pups with induced hypoxic-ischemic brain injury, which can cause cerebral palsy. According to the researchers, the umbilical cord blood cells were able to reduce the neuroinflammation caused by the ischemic episode. This suggests that umbilical cord blood cells may be neuroprotective against brain injury caused by lack of oxygen during birth or shortly thereafter.

Umbilical cord blood cells have also been tested in humans by researchers from Duke University. They studied the use of placebo or autologous umbilical cord blood (blood from the patient’s umbilical cord, rich in stem cells) in 63 children suffering from spastic cerebral palsy, ages 1 to 6, with encouraging results. Indeed, the researchers claim that a correct dosage of cord blood cells had a positive impact on brain connectivity and gross motor function.

These recent studies suggest that, finally, there may be light at the end of the tunnel for patients with cerebral palsy. Further research is needed to confirm these positive consequences on cerebral palsy, but initial studies have certainly provided hope.

cerebral palsy


McDonald, CA. et al. 2018. Effects of umbilical cord blood cells, and subtypes, to reduce neuroinflammation following perinatal hypoxic-ischemic brain injury. J Neuroinflammation Feb 17;15(1):47

Sun, JM. et al. 2017. Effect of Autologous Cord Blood Infusion on Motor Function and Brain Connectivity in Young Children with Cerebral Palsy: A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial. Stem Cells Transl Med. Dec;6(12):2071-2078.

Gulati, S. et al. 2017. Cerebral Palsy: An Overview. Indian J Pediatr. Nov 20. doi: 10.1007/s12098-017-2475-1.

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