In an exciting new breakthrough, a team of researchers from Duke University have discovered that cord blood stem cells may be able to dramatically reduce the symptoms of autism in children. The researchers discovered that an infusion of cord blood can improve social communication skills in young children with autism spectrum disorder.

The findings come from a study involving a group of 180 children with autism who were between the ages of 2 to 7.

A large proportion of the children in the study experienced improvements in language communication and ability to sustain attention measured via eye tracking. They also experienced increased alpha and beta EEG power, which is a measure of brain function.

However, study participants who also had an intellectual disability did not experience the same improvements to social communication function after receiving a cord blood stem cell infusion. The research findings were published in The Journal of Pediatrics on May 19.

Lead researcher Joanne Kurtzberg, M.D., explained how stem cells improved the condition of many study participants, saying: “Cord blood contains immune modulating cells called monocytes. In the laboratory, these cells calm down a type of brain inflammation that can be seen in children with autism. In this study, we tested whether cord blood infusions would lessen symptoms in children with autism.”

It is estimated that about 40% of children with autism will have an intellectual disability, with an IQ below 70. The researchers are still trying to understand children with and without an intellectual disability experienced different results after receiving a transfusion.

As Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D., the William Cleland Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences explained: “It is unclear whether the failure for children with intellectual disability is due to the short duration of the study, the outcome measures not being sensitive enough to detect change in this population or that the cord blood is actually not an effective treatment for children with autism who also have an intellectual disability.”

Next, Dr. Kurtzberg’s team will perform additional trials which focus on autistic children with an intellectual disability in an effort to improve their treatment.

Source: Cord blood study provides insights on benefits, limitations for autism treatment