Researchers are recruiting autistic children for a study that will test whether injecting stem cells banked from their umbilical cords can lessen symptoms and provide insights into the nature of the disorder.
While stem cells have been promoted, and sold, as a treatment for autism, few clinical trials have been conducted to see whether they’re effective. The study, which begins enrolling patients today, is the first of its kind approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to assess the use of stem cells as a potential autism therapy, said Michael Chez, director of pediatric neurology at Sutter Medical Center in Sacramento, Calif., and the principal investigator.
Autism hurts brain development and is linked to poor social interaction and communication skills, repeated body movements, and unusual attachments to objects.
“With this study we’ll be able to answer in a firm way that this is truly an observed effect, or we didn’t get an observed effect,” Chez said.
Thirty children with autism, ages 2 to 7, will be divided in two groups, with one getting the stem cell injection and the other receiving a placebo shot. After six months, the groups will switch. Patients will be monitored for improvement in language as well as irritability and other autism rating scales.