NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — There’s some exciting news for families who have children with cerebral palsy. A potential treatment using stem cells could be the first effective way to repair the parts of the brain damaged from the condition.
The cells come from a child’s own umbilical cord blood that was banked at birth. It later became clear that some children had suffered a brain injury around birth, resulting in cerebral palsy.
For the Rooney family, it was a fairly uneventful pregnancy. Their first child, Patrick, was born near full term by Cesarean and all seemed well for a while.
“His left hand would be like a fist and hold the bottle to his mouth, and then when he was crawling we thought it was cute. But his right, right leg did all the work,” Patrick’s father, Kevin, said. “The left leg just dragged.”
Patrick was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and it only got worse when he started walking.
“His left leg would turn in and when he started walking, he walked a little later, he would fall a lot,” mother Gigi said. “Then when he started running he would trip over his left leg.”
Now, you wouldn’t know that the 12-year-old ever had any brain issues. The change started six years ago with a letter the Long Island family got from Viacord, the company where Patrick’s umbilical cord blood cells had been banked, asking if they wanted to volunteer for a groundbreaking study at Duke University with Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg.
Patrick would have an infusion of his own stem cells from his cord blood and then followed for a year. The remarkable results of the placebo-controlled double blind study are documented in a recently published study.
“We were able to look at the motor tracks, which are the nerve connections that control motor function, and we were able to show that children who had improvement in function also had either repair or development of new motor tracks in the area of the deficit,” Dr. Kurtzberg said.
Now, Patrick plays sports with his younger brothers, walks, and runs normally. Doctors don’t want to call it a cure, but it is a relatively simple treatment that improves a type of spastic cerebral palsy well beyond what would be expected with physical and occupational therapy.
As for kids who didn’t get their cord blood banked, Dr. Kurtzberg is exploring using so-called generic cord cells to help those children.