Posted on February 11, 2013 6:18 pm

Cerebral Palsy Breakthrough?

A PROMISING study into cerebral palsy may pave the way to a cure for the chronic condition, experts have said.

The study, published in the journal Stem Cells, found that patients who underwent a special treatment involving transfused umbilical cord blood cells experienced big improvements in brain and movement function.

"I think this is the most promising study we've ever seen in the area of stem cells," said Associate Professor Iona Novak, the head of research at the Cerebral Palsy Alliance (formerly known as the Spastic Centre). "This is looking like a possible path to a cure."

Cerebral palsy is a permanent physical disability caused by damage to the developing brain, either while in the womb or in early childhood. Signs and symptoms include delayed development, and impaired speech and motor skills.

In the study, a group of around 30 children received a combined treatment course of EPO, rehab and donated umbilical cord blood.

After six months, the children achieved significant higher scores in motor and cognitive skills tests than patients getting other treatments. Children younger than three made the most progress.

Cord blood contains unique immune cells, known as "regulatory T-cells", as well as stem cells. The blood is collected from the umbilical cord immediately after birth and cryogenically frozen for medical uses.

New methods of cerebral palsy treatment, like controlled hypothermia, have had success with some patients recently. But experts say the stem cell study shows a new path forward.

"This is the first thing that has shown a strong positive result [in stem cell research]," Assoc Prof Novak from the Cerebral Palsy Alliance said. "I haven't seen anything this promising for some time."

The study is welcome news for those who experience the chronic condition.

The study says that a "comprehensive evaluation" of potential adverse effects needs to be done before the stem cell treatment can be used by doctors.

Research teams in the US and Korea are currently trialling other methods of how stem cells can be used to fight cerebral palsy.

Cerebral palsy specialist Bernice Mathisen said more research was required in the area, but it was "promising" research with "interesting results".