The umbilical cord blood trial for autism has passed the critical safety test during its most controversial initial trial. However, many researchers continue to have concerns about the approach.
As many as 25 autistic children have undergone the umbilical cord blood treatment and the results have been satisfactory, except for minor side effects. Children were seen to have improved behavioral traits, which were observed by clinicians and parents alike.
$26 million has so far been funded by Marcus Foundation towards the trial of the umbilical blood cord therapy. Researchers from Duke University in Durham, North Carolina were involved in the trial which saw its beginning during early 2014. Further, researchers have plans to involve 170 autistic children in the therapy.
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The trial is conducted with a different approach, wherein neither the parents nor the participants will be made aware of whether they are receiving a placebo or treatment. Researchers believe this could be the best way to conduct the trials and that the results will be more transparent.
Mixed Messages on the Cord Blood Autism Treatment
The trial was first conceived way back in the 1990’s after Kurtzberg, professor of Paediatrics, started injecting umbilical cord blood transfusions into youngsters diagnosed with metabolic diseases. At this point in time, the professor says she noticed something interesting.
“I observed that their autistic symptoms improved after the transplant,” says Kurtzberg. “We also learned that cord blood cells engrafted in the brain and repopulated the microglia cells in the brain.”
Jeremy Veenstra-VanderWeele, associate professor at Columbia University in the psychiatry department, says “It is a bit of a leap.” The professor further adds that “It doesn’t mean that it isn’t possible — almost anything is possible — but it means that the potential mechanisms are quite unclear.”
Safety Concerns of the Cord Blood Therapy
Interestingly, the treatment does not have major side effects and appears to be safe. It should be noted that youngsters in the age bracket of 2 to 6 years old were involved in the study. Post-infusion, few children were observed to be agitated, though some experienced allergic reactions. However, after one year, the side effects which were observed and reported by the parents did not have any connection to the blood infusion.
Researchers further interviewed parents to analyze the childrens’ behavior using the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scale method.
The interview followed a two step process:
- First, the child’s behavior was rated before the commencement of treatment.
- Second, the child’s behavior was noted 6 to 12 months after the treatment.
The statistics showcased significant improvements in the overall behavioral traits of the children. Interestingly, 12 children were seen to have an IQ of more than 70, which indicated the success of the trials. Antonio Hardan, director of the Autism and Developmental Disorders Clinic at Stanford University in California, who was not involved in the study, says “There is more improvement than you would expect based on development itself.”
The Placebo Problem
Researchers say the trial is in its initial stages and warn parents not to seek the unproven therapy until concrete results are made available. Veenstra-VanderWeele throws light on the 1998 trial of secreting hormones.
The hormone was found to be safe and a therapeutic effect was expected. As a result, thousands of kids were subjected to secreting infusions; unfortunately, it did nothing, as it depends on the body’s acceptance of donor cells.