Researchers announced Tuesday the beginning of a FDA-approved clinical trial that uses stem cells to ‘cure’ autism.
Dr. Michael Chez, director of pediatric neurology at Sutter Neuroscience Institute in Sacramento, Calif., said he and his colleagues have been processing the trial for more than a year now, and they have high hopes it will succeed.
“What we are looking at, is cases that don’t have an obvious genetic link,” Chez told FoxNews.com.
“Patients that we presume something went wrong with their brains, which caused a change to autistic features.”
In other words, the trial’s patients will essentially have no reason to have autism – or at least no genetic markers for the disease. This means they must have presumably developed it through another factor, such as the environment or exposure to an infection.
Inspired by a little boy who had cerebral palsy
Chez got the idea to ‘treat’ autism with stem cells when he observed the cells make a big difference for a little boy who had cerebral palsy.
Rydr’s parents chose to bank his stem cells at birth by preserving his cord blood.
Rydr received his first infusion at 15 months old. This was a child who couldn’t walk, talk or eat on his own – but he began crawling three months later.
After the second infusion, he began walking and talking, and after the third infusion, Rydr was also able to chew and swallow soft foods.
“I can verify he definitely got better,” Chez said.
Now, Chez wants to put Rydr’s experience to work for children with autism.
What is Autism?
Autism is a developmental disorder that appears in a child’s first three years of life, according to the National Institutes of Health.
The condition impacts the brain’s normal development of social and communication skills – sometimes mildly, sometimes extremely.
One in 88 U.S. children have it, and it affects one in 54 boys.
More children will be diagnosed with autism this year than with AIDS, diabetes and cancer combined, according to AutismSpeaks.org.
“We want to see if there is any benefit to giving them an infusion to redirect the nervous system cells, which may have programmed themselves due to a secondary factor,” Chez said.
“This may work on autism on different mechanisms in theory by modifying either the immune system or modifying the nervous system by indirect or direct methods.”
Putting the stem cells to work
Chez will give 30 kids infusions of their own stem cells. Most of the children for the trial have already been lined up, and they have been screened to make sure they don’t have any other issues that may have caused their autism (for example, Fragile X syndrome, stroke, head injury or prematurity).
Using the child’s own stem cells will make the study safe and ethical – plus, the stem cells are younger and have not been exposed to environmental factors, like viruses or chemicals, which can alter the stem cell’s function and structure. By using the children’s own stem cells, their bodies cannot reject them.
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