This guest blog is written by a woman who has a brain extremely well-suited to talk science! Everytime we talk about treatments for ASD - she blows me away. She reads widely, attends conferences, asks hard-hitting but well-reasoned questions and as a retains an astounding amount of pertinent information regarding current research and treatments for children and young adults with autism. Please help me welcome Nicole Wallace; her first guest post for us shares interesting details about stem cell treatments for children with ASD.
STEM CELL TREATMENT FOR AUTISM
By Nicole Wallace
Stem cell treatment for autism has been a hot topic for a few years now. It is often thought of as a last resort when many other more common treatments have already been tried. Recently Dr. Jeff Bradstreet, a well-known physician who treats children with autism, has written about his experiences with stem cell treatment in Ukraine. Dr. Bradstreet writes openly about his recent trip to Kiev where he and his stepson, along with several other patients, received stem cell treatment. You can follow along in his blog.
The most promising work in stem cell treatment for autism appears to be occurring outside of the United States. Families seeking stem cell treatment are traveling to Germany, Greece, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, China, Panama, Ukraine and India. The types of stems cells being used are:
1) mesenchymal stem cells from bone marrow or adipose (fat)
2) umbilical cord blood stem cells
3) fetal stem cells
4) embryonic stem cells
Embryonic and fetal cells can be divided into 3 subtypes: ectodermal (brain), mesodermal and endodermal and have potential for organ-specific treatment. The types of stem cells used and the treatment protocols vary among the clinics.
Websites promoting stem cell treatment and blogs show videos of happy, satisfied patients who pursued stem cell therapy. Other reports show only about 50-60% of patients receiving stem cell treatment will improve. I spoke to a few mothers in the US who have traveled outside the country to obtain stem cell therapy. Because stem cell treatments are still controversial I have withheld their names. One mother who sought stem cell treatment in India for her autistic son shared before and after SPECT scans of her child who went through 8 weeks of treatment. The SPECT scans indicate an obvious difference and the mother reports that her child is improving. The child will be returning to India for more treatments. Another family who spent time in the Dominican Republic did not see improvement after their treatment and will not return for more treatment. The third family I spoke with who went to Panama for stem cell therapy twice, felt her son’s bowel disease improved after treatment and the family will also return for a third treatment.
At costs ranging from $7000 to $40,000 per treatment, stem cell therapy is out of reach for many families. In addition to the high cost, critics claim stem cell therapies are untested and unproven. Criticism is also directed at the doctors using stem cell treatment but not publishing their techniques and results. In the case of using embryonic or fetal stem cells, many doctors are concerned with the possibility of teratoma tumors occurring in the patients treated. Many of the clinics claim on their websites that no adverse effects have been reported.
There is still much to learn about treating autism with stem cells. As more parents and doctors make the trek overseas and blog or speak about their experiences, more information will be available for parents considering stem cell therapy for their autistic children.
Nicole Wallace is a wife and mother of two children, one with ASD.