Stem cells are being widely used in cerebral palsy research. Many scientists believe that these cells have the potential to significantly improve the lives of people with cerebral palsy.
The use of some stem cells is highly controversial because these cells can be harvested from human embyros, which involves the destruction of the embryo. However, stem cells harvested from umbilical cord blood have no such ethical dilemma, as there is no pain or loss of life associated with cell collection.
What Are Stem Cells?
Stem cells are cells that can divide and form into different types of cells, like brain cells and muscle cells. The usefulness of these cells is that they can adapt and multiply, and still have the ability to convert into other types of cells.
Saving Stem Cells Through Cord Blood Banking
Blood from the umbilical cord contains a large number of stem cells. Nationally, only about 5% of pregnant women bank their children’s cord blood. The main deterrent is cost—banking can cost upwards of $2,000.00, with yearly storage costs of around $100.00.
It is safest for patients to receive stem cells from their own cord blood, because there is little or no risk of immune system rejection. Theoretically, these treatments could be effective with donated stem cells (particularly from family members, where there is less potential for rejection), but most studies appear to be with self-donated stem cells.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, as of mid-2011, opined that cord blood was not likely to be needed for any purpose at all (the statistics are about 1 in 2,700). They encourage donation of cord blood, but do not encourage banking for self-use.
The decision to save cord blood is a highly personal (and financial) decision. Though the probability of needing cord blood is thankfully low, there are potential benefits if the worst happens during labor and a child is born with injuries.
Stem Cell Treatments
In some medical tests, cerebral palsy patients who receive stem cell transfusions gain the ability to walk (see here for a story about a Maryland boy).
Doctors believe that stem cells can repair damaged brain cells, improve immune function, and strengthen muscle tissue. Some studies have shown improvement in two weeks to twelve months in the following areas after stem cell transfusion:
- Decrease in abnormal muscle tone
- Improved strength
- Improved motor function
- Improved coordination
- Improved concentration, memory and language skills
Early findings suggest that younger patients show more improvements than older patients. A federally-approved clinical trial is proceeding, and shows promise with the therapy.
Cerebral Palsy Lawsuits
Parents who have banked cord blood and have a child with cerebral palsy may be able to recover the costs of expensive stem cell treatments in a birth injury lawsuit. As the technology and science improves, it is possible that doctors are more likely to recommend these treatments. If so, a jury could include the costs in cerebral palsy verdicts.
If your child has cerebral palsy or any other birth injury, contact our medical malpractice lawyers at (440) 252-4399 or send us information about your case online.