One in 88 children born in the U.S. is diagnosed with autism, and scientists are not sure why—but they do know that number is on the rise. The condition is the leading cause of delayed development in children. Autism spectrum disorders generally become apparent before age three, with impairments in communication, difficulty with socialization, and repetitive behavior.
There is no known cure for autism. In fact, there is some controversy over whether the condition should be cured. However, there is broad agreement that people with autism need help integrating into the broader society, and the earlier treatment is started, the more successful it generally is. Interventions generally focus on resolving or accommodating the communications difficulties and maladaptive behavior patterns, and teaching children techniques for better socialization.
There is now some speculation that autism spectrum disorders may have an autoimmune component, and research into that possibility, and what it could mean for treatment, is ongoing. One study is looking at stem cells in umbilical cord blood to investigate the possibility of using these stem cells in therapies. The notion is that they can repair the altered neurochemistry that specifically causes difficulties in communication.
“This is the start of a new age of research in stem cell therapies for chronic diseases such as autism, and a natural step to determine whether patients receive some benefit from an infusion of their own cord blood stem cells,” said Michael Chez, M.D., director of Pediatric Neurology with the Sutter Neuroscience Institute, in a statement. Cord blood stem cells have been used to treat cancer and immune diseases.
“We have evidence to suggest that certain children with autism have dysfunctional immune systems that may be damaging or delaying the development of the nervous system,” Dr. Chez said. “Cord blood stem cells may offer ways to modulate or repair the immune systems of these patients which would also improve language and some behavior in children who have no obvious reason to have become autistic.”