July is National Cord Blood Awareness Month! To celebrate, Lineagen is spreading the word about cord blood banking and the ongoing research on stem cell therapies in individuals with autism spectrum disorder!
Why are stem cells so special?
New parents have the option of banking both cord blood and cord tissue after the birth of their newborn. Cord blood and tissue are valuable sources of stem cells.1 People hear the term “stem cells” but may not understand what makes these cells so special! Scientists think of stems cells like a baker thinks of flour. Flour is the primary ingredient for the creation of many delicious dishes. Flour can become pasta, bread, pizza dough, cookies, and so much more! Think of stem cells as the flour of our cell types. Stem cells are the primary ingredient that can transform into many different types of cells in our body. For example, stem cells can become a skin cell or a liver cell. Whereas skin cells can only make another skin cell and liver cells can only make another liver cell.
Because of this, stem cells can be used to treat diseases such as immune system disorders, genetic disorders, neurological disorders, and some types of cancer. Cord blood and tissue banking allows for the storage of these valuable cells to be used for future medical purposes for the child, family members, or donated to someone in need.
What is the difference between cord blood and cord tissue?
Umbilical cord blood is the blood in the umbilical cord and placenta after birth.1 It contains special cells called hematopoietic stem cells. Hematopoietic stem cells can mature into different types of blood cells in the body. Hematopoietic stem cells also are found in blood and bone marrow in adults and children. These cells can be used to treat certain types of diseases.
The umbilical cord tissue is an abundant source of mesenchymal stem cells.2 Mesenchymal stem cells can mature into connective tissue, blood vessels, and lymphatic tissue. These cells show great potential in clinical research for conditions affecting cartilage, muscle, and nerve cells.
How could stem cells benefit children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)?
Clinical trials have been performed to assess the safety and effectiveness of stem cells in ASD management.3 Below is a summary of some of these clinical trials4-7. Of note, all trials were completed with participants who have a diagnosis of ASD.
A 2018 clinical trial studied the effects of transplantation of a participant’s own cord blood.
Participants: 25 males and 4 females, with an average age of 4.5 years
Duration: 24 weeks
Primary outcome: Participants showed no statistically significant improvements
A 2017 clinical trial studied the effects of an infusion of a participant’s own umbilical cord blood.
Participants: 21 males and 4 females, with an average age of 4.6 years
Duration: 12 months
Primary outcome: Participants showed improvements in socialization, communication, and adaptive behavior
A 2014 clinical trial studied the effects of a transplantation of fetal stem cells from a donor.
Participants: 39 males and 6 females, with an average age of 6.9 years
Duration: 12 months
Primary outcome: Participants showed improvements in cognitive ability, behaviors, sociability, and in immune functions.
A 2013 clinical trial studied the effects of transplantation of cord blood and cord tissue-derived mesenchymal stem cells from a donor.
Participants: 36 males and 1 female, with an average ae of 7.4 years
Duration: 24 weeks
Primary outcome: Participants had fewer stereotypic behaviors, less lethargy, and less social withdrawal.
What are some limitations of these trials?
As of 2018, only a limited number of clinical trials have been performed3, which is not enough research to draw definitive conclusions. In addition, there are several differences among these trials such as study design, participates enrolled, and stem cell types used.
While there is much excitement about the potential for cord blood/tissue to treat or improve the symptoms of children with ASD, more research is needed. For additional information please visit a Parent's Guide to Cord Blood Foundation here and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology’s cord blood banking page here. If you are having a baby sometime soon, consider the benefits of banking his or her cord blood!
Mesenchymal: refers to cells that develop into connective tissue, blood vessels, and lymphatic tissue.
Clinical trial: a research study in which a person or group of people are prospectively assigned to one or more interventions (which may include placebo or other control) to evaluate the effects of those interventions on health-related biomedical or behavioral outcomes
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Cord Blood Banking: https://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Cord-Blood-Banking?IsMobileSet=false#what
O’Brien TA, et al. 2006. PMID: 16618241
Siniscalco D, et al. 2018. PMID: 30425534
Chez M, et al. 2018. PMID: 29405603
Dawson G, Sun JM, Davlantis KS, et al. 2017. PMID: 28378499