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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Neurological Stem Cell Therapy

"That [the day of his stem cell transplants] was the day we finally got to meet our son."
"We think the stem cell transplant has played a role and is continuing to play a role in his progress."
"We know that the research is still ongoing, but we believe the cord blood stem cells helped our son and we think it could do the same for other kids. Just imagine the possibilities for future treatment."
"I can't tell you how much joy he brings us and how much hope we have for his future."
Kim Kucher, Toronto

"Based on descriptions that I have been given by his parents and the physicians who treated Jack at birth, I would have expected him to be much more severely [affected] than he is."
"He is making steady improvements and responding to his intense therapy programs."
"The early research results coming from Duke University indicate that early transfusion of cord stem cells is effective. The clinical description of Jack's improvement over the 24 hours after the transplant was remarkable. It certainly seemed to have a major clinical effect."
Dr. Karen Pape, clinical neuroscientist, Toronto

"I think stem cells are more likely to do that [repair neurological damage] because they're sophisticated."
"If that's proven to be true, it would open a whole new avenue of treatment for serious neurological diseases -- and that's very exciting."
Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg, researcher, director, Carolinas Cord Blood Bank, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina
Stephen Pankratz, Kim Kucher and their son Jack in August.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov       Stephen Pankratz, Kim Kucher and their son Jack in August.

A Toronto couple whose child was born at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, was greeted with devastating news when the baby failed to breathe after birth, causing doctors to swiftly transfer him a distance from where his mother lay, expecting her firstborn to be placed in her arms for the first time. Doctors succeeded in saving the child's life, before they relayed the mind-numbing news to his parents, father Stephen Pankratz and mother Kim Kucher.

Their newborn son was diagnosed with Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE), having suffered brain damage during birth when oxygen was cut off to his brain, reflecting the difficulty of the birth process in this instance. Tiny Jack's parents were advised to expect their son would suffer as a result, with dramatic cognitive and physical problems. The devastated parents attempted to find all the information they could source, to prepare them for the future.

In their search they discovered that clinical trials were taking place in Durham, South Carolina meant to determine whether cord blood is capable of advancing brain repair in patients suffering from cerebral palsy, HIE, autism, or for those who had undergone a stroke. The initial trial was to determine whether the therapy is safe. The trials in South Carolina while unique, see their counterparts being carried out in other scientifically advanced areas of the world.

What they learned inspired the parents to appeal to neonatal specialists at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, who agreed to perform a procedure considered to be of an experimental nature. The parents had arranged to store blood and tissue stem cells for their baby's umbilical cord. And at twelve days of age, Jack was infused with the banked stem cells, as the youngest ever to undergo such therapy in Canada, the first to be treated for HIE with stem cells.

The results were virtually immediate, when days following the transplant the baby no longer required multiple intravenous lines to sustain his life. He was drinking from a bottle, and cradled in his mother's arms for the first time. That was two years ago. Now two years of age, he is able to walk with some assistance. Because he has cerebral palsy and there are life-challenges in his future, he has a regimen of exercises for the purpose of strengthening his core muscles.

Given the extent of the brain damage he suffered, the child's alertness and dexterity is greater than expected. A new era in the science of medical treatment of neurological disorders is opening into a brighter future for those afflicted with chronic neurological conditions. Stem cells which are unspecialized cells capable of renewing themselves and becoming tissue or organ-specific cells, having been proven effective in treating blood disorders and particular types of cancers, will now take up a new, expanded role.

Although more evidence of their efficacy is required proving they are as effective as they appear to be in the treatment of neurological conditions, the expectation among experts in the field is that the results will validate their early promising results. The clinical trials taking place in Durham are meant to clarify whether cord blood is able to help repair the brains of neurologically-impaired patients.

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