Stem cells from umbilical cord offer hope for children with autism

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Stem cells from umbilical cord offer hope for children. Ali Gorman reports during Action News at 5 p.m. on April 6. (WPVI)

Umbilical cord blood stem cells are being used in about 80 different diseases, including cancers and blood disorders.

Now, reports from one trial suggest they may help kids with autism.

It's a small test, but it's getting a lot of attention.

Doctors at Duke University say stem cells from a child's own umbilical cord blood may lessen the symptoms and behavior of autism.

And a Florida family believes it works.

Gracie Gregory is one of 25 children on the Autism Spectrum who received stem cells from her own cord blood as part of a study at Duke University.

Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg, the lead Duke researcher, said, "Cord blood which is the blood leftover in the placenta or after birth after a baby is born contains lots of different kinds of cells."
Doctor Kurtzberg says the hope is the cells will help rebuild connections in the brain.

In their study, 70-percent of the children including Gracie who had the treatment when she was five, saw improvement.

"Before the study, autism affected 75-percent of our day and now autism maybe affects 10 percent of our day. Cooper! Was it the stem cells? All we know is something happened to her - whether it was the stem cells or natural progression, she got better," says Gina Gregory, Gracie's mother.

Her parents say her tantrums lessened and she became more socially connected and affectionate.

"It's still there. It's not a cure but I think it supercharged her learning curve," said Wade Gregory, Gracie's father.

Researchers say although it was a small Phase 1 study, only designed to show the procedure was safe, they have already begun a second study, by invitation.
More information here.
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