NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Cases of autism have soared in recent years: one in every 88 children is diagnosed with the disorder. Now, a groundbreaking clinical trial will test whether a child’s own stem cells – the building blocks of the body – might help.
Dr. Michael Chez of the Sutter Neuroscience Institute wants to look at the relationship between the immune system and the central nervous system, and it is his hope that he will be able to use stem cells to help behavioral and developmental issues in autistic children.
Elisa Rudgers’ son, Rydr, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 11 months, he couldn’t sit up on his own and required feeding tubes to eat. At 15 months, doctors gave Rydr his first infusion of banked cord blood stem cells that his parents saved while he was a newborn. His developmental delays diminished quickly.
“After the first infusion after three months, he was crawling, six months he was standing, and nine months he was walking.” said Rudgers.
Rudgers said that her 4-year-old son likes the spotlight because he’s become something of a medical marvel. He’s gotten lots of attention.
Rydr’s stem cells apparently helped at least partly rebuild his damaged brain. Now, Rydr’s doctor is enrolling patients in a clinical trial to see if the same treatment that’s helped this little boy, can help treat autism. Dr. Chez believes it can.
“There’s enough encouraging evidence to think there may have a role to play here, but we’re opening a new door and that’s the giant step.” he said.
Can Rydr’s reversal be repeated?
Many experts are skeptical, saying it’s unclear what or where the brain defect in autism actually is. Dr. Chez says stem cells could regenerate missing brain cells or help repair faulty connections between brain cells.
Either way, Ryder’s mom says, it’s worth a try.
The study is recruiting 30 autistic children between ages two and seven with banked cord blood. All of the children will be tested on their ability to form and comprehend words, and while this experiment may not help, parents of autistic kids will try almost anything, and the cells are unlikely to do any harm.