Stem cell therapy for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has been explored for years, with clinical trials frequently making the news and the rounds of online parenting discussion forums. With recent studies estimating that approximately 1% of the world population is living with ASD, and a prevalence of 1 in 59 U.S. births, many parents are seeking further education about the disorder and potential treatments, with stem cell treatment for autism increasingly viewed as a promising opportunity. But are we getting close to a stem cell treatment for autism spectrum challenges? What do parents really need to know?
Background on Autism and Treatments
According to Autism Speaks, an organization dedicated to serving the needs of those with autism and their families through advocacy and support, the broad range of conditions that make up ASD are characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication. Autism is a spectrum disorder, so the experiences and challenges of a person with autism can vary greatly; in the words of Autism Speaks, “there is no one type of autism, but many”.
With that in mind, it is important to understand that clinical trials investigating autism and stem cells are not looking for a “cure”, but are designed as a treatment or intervention. The goal is to relieve or lessen impacts of autism to a degree that conventional behavioral methods of treatment cannot achieve.
The Clinical Trials
The most notable clinical trials are occurring at Duke University, under the guidance of Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg, an internationally renowned expert in pediatric hematology and oncology, pediatric blood and marrow transplantation, cord blood banking and transplantation, and regenerative medicine. She is truly a celebrity in the cord blood banking industry because of her contributions to the field.
The clinical trials under Dr. Kurtzberg’s direction at Duke have focused on cord blood transplants for children diagnosed with autism (as well as other promising trials for cerebral palsy and neonatal brain injury). Americord has released three of our clients’ samples for this trial, all of whom experienced safe treatment with absolutely no adverse events.
Phase I clinical trials, designed to test for safety, have been successful, leading to Phase II trials, which have recently been completed, with an estimated 165 participants. The full results have not yet been released, but there is considerable promise and excitement in the scientific community waiting for the final review from Dr. Kurtzberg’s team.
And while the Duke University trials have received the most attention, there are other trials that warrant mention. BioInformant, a leader in stem cell industry news and analysis, notes that there are other clinical trials using cord blood, both in the U.S. and abroad, as well as trials with other sources of stem cells underway around the world.
The Takeaway for Families
It is important to understand that these promising developments are still in the trial phase, and that stem cell treatment for autism is not yet a common practice.
However, safe trials with promising results are the foundation for all procedures and treatments that eventually become a standard of care. That is, while there is not yet enough published data to assuredly say that cord blood stem cell transplants are the definitive treatment of the future for autism, the scientific community is seeing the type of progress one hopes for. And these developments are one of the reasons more and more parents are choosing to bank their newborn’s cord blood. Banking stem cells provides access to the future of regenerative medicine at a time when the full scope of incredible discoveries is not yet known.
Americord is committed to helping people live healthier, longer lives. We will be sure to update you on stem cell therapies for autism as they arise in this exciting time.