Cells4Life Blog – Cord Blood

Cerebral Palsy: Could Cord Blood Stem Cells be the Key to a Cure?

Despite a myriad of palliative therapies for cerebral palsy, a treatment that actually repairs damage to the brain has remained elusive that is, until now.  In the last few years a huge amount of research and a range of clinical trials have taken place into the application of umbilical cord blood stems cells to treat the condition and it looks like they may offer a solution.  In fact, the treatment appears to be so effective that cerebral palsy and brain injury patients have seen their symptoms reversed.

Small cerebral palsy boy walker.jpg

Stem cells are most commonly associated with transplant therapy for the treatment of life-threatening blood and immune disorders.  However, stem cell research is also central to a far broader and potentially more pivotal area know as Regenerative Medicine.  Regenerative medicine uses a patient’s own stem cells to repair or replace damaged or diseased tissues in the body.  The youngest and most powerful source of stem cells that a person will ever have is the blood left in the umbilical cord and placenta after they are born.  These cells can be collected and stored at birth so that they are available if a person requires any treatments in the future.

Cerebral palsy stem cell trials

Cord blood stem cells have shown exciting results in numerous trials around the world for treating cerebral palsy and brain injury:

South Korea

An early trial in Korea showed promising outcomes using allogeneic (donated) cord blood.  The results showed improvements in both motor and cognitive function in patients with cerebral palsy [1]. This trial resulted to further research and clinical studies into the use of stem cells for cerebral palsy throughout the world.

United States

Possibly the most well-known trials are those headed by Prof. Joanne Kurtzberg at Duke University in the United States.  These studies use autologous cord blood (the child’s own cells) that have been stored at birth in a private cord blood bank.  Her research has treated children with cerebral palsy and brain injury and has yielded some fantastic success stories.

One case study of note is that of Sparrow Morris [2] who almost drowned in a pool as a toddler.  It was estimated that she was without oxygen for over 45 minutes.  Her parents were told to expect the worst but against the odds she survived, albeit with a serious brain injury.  Sparrow was able to take part in the clinical trial at Duke using her own cord blood.  The stem cells in the blood repaired the damage to her brain and she now lives an ordinary life with no trace of the accident evident.

More recently a boy from Ecuador was treated for spastic cerebral palsy.  The boy was born prematurely and was starved of oxygen when his incubator failed – it is unknown for how long he was without oxygen.  Tomas’ parents were told he would never be able to walk or talk.  However at a follow up after receiving his cord blood stem cells, it was confirmed that Tomas has reached those milestones and is leading a normal life [3].


A pioneering clinical trial in Australia is now investigating the role that sibling cord blood could play in the treatment of cerebral palsy.  Unfortunately many parents are not aware that their child will have the condition during pregnancy and therefore may not choose to bank their baby’s stem cells.  However, the publicity surrounding the success stories from the trials at Duke could prompt parents to save the umbilical cord blood of their future siblings.   This research may give these parents access to stem cell treatments for their children in the future.

Hope for the future…

Cord blood stem cells are giving cerebral palsy patients real hope of an effective treatment in the near future. In fact over 82% of privately stored cord blood that is released for treatment in an autologous setting is for brain injury.  While stem cell treatments for cerebral palsy and brain injury are not yet available as a routine therapy, a cure is no longer elusive and is firmly in researcher’s sights.

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Many private banks in the UK offer cord blood storage for 25 years [3], giving parents the opportunity to access such treatments for their children in the future.  Cells4Life, the UK’s largest private cord blood bank, has supplied five samples of cord blood for the treatment of brain injury including cerebral palsy and perinatal stroke.  A free Parents’ Guide to Cord Blood Banking is available from their website www.cells4life.com

[1] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3744768/

[2] http://cells4life.com/project/cord-blood-stem-cells-treat-acquired-brain-injury/

[3] http://parentsguidecordblood.org/en/news/ecuadorian-boy-cerebral-palsy-cured-after-cord-blood-therapy

[4] http://cells4life.com