Large Study of Stem Cells for Autism Draws Criticism

Posted on July 16, 2014

A team at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, is set to launch a $40 million clinical trial to explore stem cells from umbilical cord blood as a treatment for autism. But experts caution that the trial is premature.

A $15 million grant from the Marcus Foundation, a philanthropic funding organization based in Atlanta, will bankroll the first two years of the five-year trial, which also plans to test stem cell therapy for stroke and cerebral palsy. The autism arm of the trial aims to enroll 390 children and adults.

Early animal studies have shown that stem cells isolated from umbilical cord blood can stimulate cells in the spinal cord to regrow their myelin layers, and in doing so help restore connections with surrounding cells. Autism is thought to result from impaired connectivity in the brain. Because of this, some groups of children with the disorder may benefit from a stem cell transplant, Kurtzberg says.

But others are skeptical of the approach. Autism is a complex disorder with many possible causes. Also, it's unclear how stem cells derived from cord blood can improve connections in the brain. Given these important caveats, it's too soon to conduct a test of this scale and investment, some experts say.

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Category(s):Autism spectrum disorders

Source material from Scientific American


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