What is stem cell therapy?
Stem cell therapy is rapidly evolving as a potential treatment for many diseases such as autism which do not have any medical or surgical treatments available. It has been observed that selective areas in the brains of individuals with autism are damaged and do not function normally. The main objective of this therapy is to reverse this damage by replacing the damaged cells using healthy cells. As a result, it restores the lost functions and helps improve the quality of life. This therapy makes the individuals independent and helps them to integrate into the society.
What are stem cells?
Stem cells are the key elements forming all the tissues of the human body. They are specialized cells having the ability to rapidly multiply and convert into any type of tissue in the body. Its purpose through life is to regenerate, repair and replace damaged tissue. They are naturally capable of migrating to damaged tissues and start the repair process.
What are the different types of stem cells?
There are many types of stem cells, but broadly they are classified into 3 types:
(a) Embryonic stem cells (b) Umbilical cord stem cells (c) Adult stem cells
(a) Embryonic Stem cells: These cells are obtained from the embryo or an unborn fetus. These are obtained from spare embryos from IVF clinics. These cells are not being used presently due to various medical and ethical controversies associated to them. Tumor formation is recorded as one of the serious side effects of these cells.
(b) Umbilical cord Stem cells: These cells are derived from the umbilical cord which connects the baby and mother at birth. They are safer and less controversial compared to embryonic cells. But, since these cells are derived from outside the patient, the donor cells have to be compatible with the recipient. Various cord blood banking companies store these cells. Storage, availability and expense can be a concern.
(c) Adult Stem cells: These cells are obtained from the same patient, either from the hip bone or the fat/adipose tissue. Currently, these are the safest and most popularly used stem cells. Availability of these cells is not a problem. The process of extracting them, separating them and injecting them back are relatively simple and non invasive. Due to their autologous nature there are no ethical or safety issues with the use of these cells.
Recently, another type of stem cell called Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPSCs) has shown a lot of potential. iPSCs are made from cells taken from the patient which are genetically modified to behave like an embryonic stem cells. These cells combine the efficacy of embryonic stem cells with the safety of adult stem cells.
How do stem cells work in autism?
Stem cells repair, regenerate and replace the damaged cells in the brain of the individual with autism by following mechanisms:
How is stem cell therapy conducted at our centre?
Stem cell therapy at our centre is a simple and completely safe procedure which requires only injections and no surgery is involved. We use adult stem cells derived from the bone marrow of the patient. The protocol involves 3 steps.
This procedure is carried out in an operation theatre. A needle is inserted into the hip bone, after making the area numb with local anesthetic, so that the patient does not experience pain. 80-100 ml bone marrow is aspirated from the bone. This takes about 20 minutes.
The bone marrow removed from the patient is taken to the Stem cell laboratory, where the stem cells are separated from the remaining cells of the bone marrow by the density gradient method. This takes about 3 hours.
This procedure is also carried out in an operation theatre. A lumbar puncture using a very thin needle is done through the L4-5 space of the spine, after giving local anesthetic and the stem cells are injected into the cerebrospinal fluid. Around 50 million cells are injected this way. This takes about 20 minutes.
The procedure is completed on the same day.
How safe is stem cell therapy?
Adult stem cell therapy is an absolutely safe form of treatment. At Neurogen BSI and in all the available publications internationally and nationally, there have been no cases of serious adverse events or neurological deterioration due to stem cell therapy. Minor reversible symptomatic procedure related problems occasionally do occur but these are completely treatable with no long lasting sequelae.
What are the results and improvements after stem cell therapy in autism?
The outcome of stem cell therapy in autism is remarkably positive. 91% of individuals with autism have shown clinical improvements. Decrease in aggressive behaviour & hyperactivity, improved eye contact & attention span, improvements in communication & social skills are observed.
Improvements are also reported in the PET CT scan of the brain as change in metabolic activity of the brain. These changes correlate to the clinical improvements confirming the positive effect of stem cell therapy in autism.