September 1, 2014

A new study is on the horizon to look at reducing the severe effects of encephalopathy in newborns and umbilical cord banking will have a role in this incredible, potentially life-saving, life-changing research.

Encephalopathy is a common term used to identify a degenerative brain disease, injury, or malfunction. It can occur at any age and is caused by any number of factors, including illness or injury. Symptoms of this disorder vary widely from mild to severe, temporary to permanent, and can include dementia, seizures and even death, but the most common symptom is an altered mental state.

When encephalopathy occurs at birth, most frequently due to a prolonged lack of oxygen to the baby during childbirth for whatever the reason (called Neonatal hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy), the most common outcome is Cerebral Palsy, but the condition can be fatal as well. Brain paralysis is another severe consequence. When this occurs, doctors know fast action is key to limiting the injury to the brain. One method used is the cooling of the brain following birth to try to avert brain damage. Brain cooling has proven to be somewhat effective in reducing damage, but, unfortunately, even with this, more than half of babies will still experience a severe incapacitating debility.

Researchers in Japan are hopeful that they will soon have another treatment option for these newborns. A team from the Osaka City University will conduct a clinical study beginning in November, to look at the effects a cord blood stem cell transplant will have on the regeneration of the nerves and blood vessels in the affected newborns’ brains1. The stem cells will come from the umbilical cord blood of each child, collected at birth. The babies will receive the cord blood stem cells intravenously, in conjunction with brain cooling techniques. Babies naturally have an inherent ability to heal and regenerate, and the researchers are optimistic that a stem cell transplant, by taking advantage of the stem cells’ therapeutic potential, will only strengthen that ability and help thwart severe brain damage.

Previous successful studies have been conducted on adults and animals with brain injury and shown promise in healing and as a preventative measure. If this study is successful, it could mean a life changing therapy for the babies and families involved. Cord blood banking has proven to be a benefit to thousands of families who have made the decision to help protect their child’s and family’s future health. More than 80 diseases can be treated with cord blood and that number is sure to grow thanks to new advancements in research. • Stem cell study in Japan planned for newborns with encephalopathy, JiJi Press. Published Aug. 28, 2014, The Japan Times. Found online: http://goo.gl/7ZLj9U

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