Health Team

Duke explores stem cell treatment for children with cerebral palsy

Duke researchers are exploring a stem cell treatment that they hope will repair the brain damage at the root of the disease.

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DURHAM, N.C. — Cerebral palsy robs children of their ability to move or speak normally, and they typically face a lifetime of physical therapy, which may yield only limited results.

Duke researchers are exploring a stem cell treatment that they hope will repair the brain damage at the root of the disease.

Taking physical assessment tests is nothing new to Nyla Rogers, 6. She's been through all types of physical therapy most of her life. After she was born, she developed normally, until 8 months of age when she had a stroke of unknown cause.

“She wasn't able to move her right side. Her face had drooped also on the right side,” said Warren Rogers, Nyla’s father.

“Right after that, she was diagnosed as having cerebral palsy,” added Uvette Pope-Rogers, Nyla’s mother.

Nyla still has more difficulty with coordination on her right side, along with some speech and cognitive delays, but they're somewhat mild compared with more severe cases of cerebral palsy.

A test of Nyla's physical coordination is part of a Duke study of kids between 12 months and 6 years of age who have had their umbilical cord blood banked when they were born.

Earlier, Nyla received an infusion, possibly of her own cord blood or a harmless placebo fluid. Researchers have already used cord blood stem cells to treat other genetic diseases of the brain.

"We've learned that the cord blood cells given intravenously can make their way to the brain and help repair some of the damage,” said Dr. Jessica Sun, a Duke pediatric hematologist/oncologist.

The hope is the use of a child's own cord blood may improve the symptoms of cerebral palsy.

"If this is beneficial, it will be the first treatment aimed at treating the actual cause of cerebral palsy,” Sun said.

Past therapy has helped Nyla, but her parents hope the cord blood infusion will do more.

“(We want) anything beneficial, anything to close the gap to normalize her abilities,” Warren Rogers said.

Each child will be in the study for two years. Half of them will start the study with an infusion of their own cord blood cells, while the other half only gets a harmless fluid infusion, a placebo.

At the end of the two years, their physical abilities will be measured once again to see if there are improvements. Then, each child will get the infusion they didn't get at the start of the trial.

For more information, contact the Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplant Program at 919-668-1100.


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