Nov 17 2014

Can Umbilical Cord Blood Stem Cells Treat Cerebral Palsy?

Posted by Martin Smithmyer

Cerebral palsy is a devastating disorder that permanently damages muscle coordination and body movement. It appears in early childhood and is usually caused by infection or trauma to the brain.

Can Cord Blood Stem Cells Treat Cerebral Palsy?

Until recently there was little hope for treating this destructive condition. Now, Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg and her team at Duke University Medical Center are studying stem cell transplantation using stem cells derived from a child’s own cord blood to treat cerebral palsy.1 There was recently a clinical trial at Duke University to test umbilical cord blood stem cells and their ability to treat cerebral palsy.

A little About The Study

Dr. Kurtzberg’s stem cell research has already had exciting results. Grace Underwood of Pasadena, CA, developed cerebral palsy in 2007, when she was 9 months old. She’d been accidentally deprived of oxygen while having an operation for a cleft palate. As a result, Grace lost all muscle tone and control. Although she’d been developing normally, she could no longer sit up, reach for things, or even raise her head.

Then Grace’s mom, Olivia, learned of Dr. Kurtzberg’s work and how other kids who had had stem cell transplants were making amazing recoveries. “My blood caught on fire,” says Olivia. Although Grace didn’t qualify for the formal study, the Duke program offers compassion treatment. Grace’s family was able to raise money for the infusions and the trip to Durham, NC, through a crowdfunding website.

Grace’s parents had taken the precaution of banking her umbilical cord tissue at her birth. “She was born healthy and we had no problems running in the family. I just had a feeling it might be a good thing down the line,” says Olivia.

After three infusions of her own cord blood in 2012 and 2013, Grace has made a recovery that’s nothing short of miraculous. She goes to school and can climb stairs by herself, hold crayons and pens, and even do handstands!

We can expect many more miracles as scientists continue to discover the wonders of cord blood stem cell transplantation.



  1. Duke Translational Medicine Institute. Kurtzberg and team move forward with cerebral palsy cord blood study. Available at: Accessed November 13, 2014.
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