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What Are the Possible Benefits of Stem Cell Therapy for Cerebral Palsy?

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  • Written By: Alexis Rohlin
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 24 November 2016
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Stem cell therapy for cerebral palsy involves injecting stem cells into a patient's spinal fluid via a lumbar puncture with the goal of having the stem cells migrate to the brain, repair damaged brain tissue and recover motor functions. This therapy is, as of 2011, still in clinical trials as an experimental treatment for many types of injuries and diseases, not just cerebral palsy. The use of stem cell therapy for cerebral palsy has not been clinically proven — again, as of 2011 — to be an effective method for permanently lessening the symptoms of the disease. Researchers are optimistic, however, because possible benefits of stem cell therapy for cerebral palsy include decreased involuntary movement and abnormal muscle tone, and improved speaking abilities and fine motor skills such as balance and walking.

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While, as of 2011, cerebral palsy cannot be cured, many symptoms of the disease can be reduced with speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, surgery and medications such as drugs that relax muscle spasms, control seizures and reduce pain. Some cases of cerebral palsy may cause the growth of painfully tight muscles that cause spasms or shaking and restrict mobility. For people with cerebral palsy who suffer from isolated spasticity, or when spasms occur in only one muscle group, an injection of onabotulinumtoxinA, sold as Botox®, into the muscle, nerves or both may help decrease or stop muscle spasms. Extremely severe cases of muscle spasticity may require surgery to sever the nerves attached to the spastic muscles to relax the tightness and lessen the pain it causes.

The possibility of the use stem cell therapy for cerebral palsy to alleviate some of the symptoms of the disease without having to undergo extensive surgery or take medications makes stem cell therapy an attractive alternative to some other treatments. Stem cell therapy for cerebral palsy is thought to repair the brain lesions that cause cerebral palsy and regrow damaged brain tissue, which lessens symptoms of the disease but does not eliminate them entirely. Adult stem cells that are collected from bone marrow and adipose, or fat tissue, of the patient receiving stem cell therapy lowers the risk of tissue rejection and its possible side effects, because the body recognizes the cells. Adipose tissue is removed via mini-liposuction and requires making one or more incisions in the skin. Bone marrow is collected from each rear hipbone with a special hypodermic needle that is inserted into the marrow cavity of the bone.

Cerebral palsy is a disease that causes vision and communication problems, epilepsy and deformities in a patient's muscle tissue and bone structure that limit body movement and may contort body posture in a way that restricts some physical activity. Abnormal muscle growth causes stiff or tight muscles, and exaggerated reflexes that may cause walking problems such as dragging a foot, walking on one's toes, and a crouched or "scissored" gait. The disease is caused by intracranial lesions, or brain tissue damage, that occurs from infancy up to age 3. Brain lesions that cause cerebral palsy may develop during fetal development or childbirth, after childbirth, or as a result of accidental brain injury.

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