Autism is a broad spectrum of conditions that affect mental development, the nervous system, and often result in impaired social interaction and a reduced ability to communicate. However, autism spectrum disorders can range from very mild to severe. In all patients with autism spectrum disorder (the current nomenclature that includes a number of previously separately-diagnosed conditions) there are differences in how they communicate, interact, behave and learn.
What Causes Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?
The underlying cause of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is not known, but it is suspected that there are multiple underlying factors, rather than a single cause. For instance, in studies of young children with moderate to severe ASD, it was found that their brains’ electrical signaling capacity was abnormal, and that the chemical signaling system operated incorrectly. There were fewer neurons to connect the two halves of the brain, as well. Interestingly, there was also a marked inflammation in the gut for many children with an ASD diagnosis.
Symptoms of ADS
ASD is a spectrum that includes a host of different but related conditions. As such, there is no single list of symptoms that can be applied to all individuals with a diagnosis of autism. Some of the more common symptoms that may be present include difficulty communicating, particularly verbally, an inability to maintain eye contact with other people, difficultly learning through conventional means, difficulty developing “normal” social skills, and the development of unusual behaviors, such as body rocking or hand flapping.
How Can Stem Cells Help?
Stem cells are powerful healers – they’re responsible for our body’s ability to regenerate tissue and to heal from injuries and disease. These cells are present in our bodies from before birth, all the way through old age, although they do decrease in number and efficacy was we age. Stem cells are present before any other type of cell in the body, and can transform into any other type of cell, although there are specialized stem cells within each area of the body (brain cells, heart cells, lung cells, etc.).
When transferred into the brain, stem cells can transform into the very neurons that are deficient, allowing a better connection to be made between the two hemispheres, and improving both the chemical signaling system and electrical signaling system. In fact, research in California conducted by Ricardo Dolmetsch, assistant professor of neurobiology at Stanford University, showed exactly that – stem cells were able to transform into the neurons related to language, memory and cognitive functionality.
Another study conducted at Duke University, and reported on by CNN, showed that after a transfusion of cord blood containing stem cells, nearly two-thirds of autistic children in the study showed marked improvements in all areas.
Speaking of the Duke study, Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg, head of the program, told CNN, “Many children were able to attend to play and have meaningful communication in a way they weren’t before. Some children had less repetitive behaviors than they did when they came into the study.” However, Dr. Kurtzberg notes that this was only a single study, and it was conducted without a comparison group. Larger clinical trials will be needed.
Stem Cell Types: Autologous vs. Allogeneic
Stem cell therapy is being studied in laboratories around the world. However, not all labs use the same type of stem cells. There are two primary types used today – autologous stem cells, and allogeneic stem cells. The differences between these two types are stark.
Autologous stem cells are the body’s own. They are harvested from the body, most often from fatty tissue, before being multiplied in laboratory conditions and then injected back into the body.
- Autologous stem cells are as old as the patient, meaning they have lost much of their effectiveness and energy
- There are fewer stem cells overall due to age and cellular death
- Autologous stem cells may carry accumulated toxins
- Autologous stem cells may carry genetic mutations that could trigger an autoimmune response after injection
There are several issues with this, including the following:
In contrast, allogeneic stem cells are harvested not from the patient’s own body, but from donated umbilical cord blood and tissue. These are rigorously tested for purity and quality before being stored in a special bank.
- They are immune-naïve, meaning the immune system will not respond negatively to their presence
- They are young and energetic, increasing their effectiveness and overall lifespan/self-regeneration capabilities
- They carry no genetic mutations, and no buildup of toxins
Allogeneic stem cells offer a number of important advantages over autologous stem cells, including the following:
As you can see, allogeneic stem cells are the superior choice here, and offer the most effective treatment available.
How Are Stem Cells Used?
Stem cells may be transferred to a patient in two ways – direct injection or IV infusion. With stem cell therapy for autism, IV infusion is the most commonly used method. Once infused into the body, the stem cells will usually congregate and multiply in the lungs before spreading throughout the body (including into the brain and into the gut). Here, they will begin the process of healing and regeneration, reduce inflammation, and improve chemical and electrical signaling.
While stem cell therapy for autism remains experimental and there are no FDA-approved treatments available, it is a promising step forward. There is immense potential here, and it could eventually be possible to allow children previously diagnosed with ASD to live a full, normal, healthy life. With that being said, it is important to work with a physician with in-depth experience using allogeneic stem cells to treat a wide range of health conditions. A customized treatment approach should be developed specific to the autistic patient, and the right administration method must be chosen.