What is stem cell therapy?
Recently, stem cell therapy is evolving as a new treatment for various incurable disorders such as autism. This therapy aims at replacing the damaged cells of the body using healthy cells. In autism, selective areas of the brain are damaged and do not function normally. Hence, this therapy helps in repairing and restoring the affected functions and thereby improving the quality of life of the individuals affected with autism. It helps to make these children independent and integrate them into the society.
What are stem cells?
Stem cells are the fundamental elements forming all the tissues of the human body. They are unique cells with an ability to rapidly multiply and convert into any type of tissue in the body. The main purpose of these cells is to regenerate, repair and replace damaged tissue. They are naturally capable of travelling towards the damaged areas 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 adult tissues, either from the hip bone or the fat/adipose tissue, etc. Currently, these are the safest and most popularly used stem cells. They are easily available and safe for use. 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:
- They release growth factors which help to regulate the immune system of individuals with autism and have a healing and regenerative effect on damaged tissue.
- They increase the blood supply to the damaged tissue by forming new blood vessels by a process called angiogenesis thereby helping in their repair process.
- They can convert into the any tissue type into which they are injected, thereby replacing non-functioning tissue.
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.