Stem Cell Therapy in Autism:
What are stem cells?
Stem cells are specialized cells, which have the ability to multiply and develop into many different cell types in the body during early life and growth. They also help in the repair of the body by dividing and replenishing the damaged cells. When a stem cell divides, each new cell has the potential either to remain as a stem cell or to become another type of cell with a more specialized function, such as a nerve cell, a skin cell, or a red blood cell.
What are the types of stem cells?
Stem cells are of different types, depending on the source from where they are obtained as well as their ability to form different types of cells. Table 24.1 shows all the different types of stem cells however; the 3 main types of stem cells are embryonic, umbilical cord and adult stem cells.
Embryonic stem cells:
Stem cells can be obtained from 3-4 days embryos. This stage in the development of a human is known as blastocyst. Infact, all of us are born from or are a product of stem cells. When we were first conceived (when our mother's egg fertilizes with our father's sperm), we were in one cell stage. Then, we divide and form a clump of cells (16-32cells), and enter the "blastocyst" stage. The cells obtained from this stage, when grown in a lab, has the ability to form any cells of our body (known as having totipotency).We can imagine that a whole child can be formed from these cells in 9 months (in the womb of a mother).So, theoretically, these are the most potent stem cells. However, they have certain ethical and medical issues surrounding them. In some religions, derivation of stem cells from blastocyst (which are extra after invitro fertilization), is equivalent to taking a life. Apart from that, these cells have potential to form a type of tumor called 'teratoma' (as found in experimental animals).
Umbilical cord stem cells:
The other source is the umbilical cord blood and placental tissue (Wharton's jelly).This is a rich source of stem cells. The cord tissue is discarded as a waste during the birth of a child. The option of storing this for "potential" future use for the same child can be considered. It is found to be a good source of stem cells for children with blood disorders, such as sickle cell anemia and thallasemia. Sibling cord blood can be used for the patient. The advantages of using cord blood as a source of stem cells are:
1) It is a noninvasive source and can be obtained from the umbilical cord immediately after birth.
2) Available in vast abundance; thousands of babies are born each day and the umbilical cord and placenta are discarded as waste.
3) Despite its high content of immune cells, it has minimal risk of rejection.
Adult stem cells:
Adult stem cells, currently, form the most attractive and safest types of stem cells for clinical use. Stem cells taken from bone marrow, adipose tissue and dental pulp of the patient themselves (autologous) can be used with no risk of side effects. Bone marrow derived stem cells, especially, are found to be safe, feasible and effective option for use in treatment of various disorders, such as cardiac problems, diabetes, joint problems and disorders of the brain, spinal cord and muscles.
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:
1. 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.
2. 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
3. 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.
What is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT)?
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy is a safe, non-invasive and effective way to get more oxygen into the body at the cellular level by using pressurized air chambers. The patient breathes 100% oxygen while fully enclosed in a specially designed chamber at three times the normal atmospheric pressure, thus increasing oxygen reaching the cellular level via blood. By allowing more oxygen to penetrate otherwise oxygen deficient areas, relief for many common ailments can be sought, because HBOT enables the body to carry out oxygen dependant processes by dissolving oxygen directly into the blood, plasma and cerebrospinal fluids. It is used to promote and support healing in the management of conditions in which oxygen transport to the tissues has been disrupted by traumatic injury, infection, inflammation, or edema. The table below outlines the various processes that are modulated by HBOT, resulting in the overall visible health benefits.
In Autism there is decreased supply of oxygen to the brain and some degree of inflammation. HBOT helps increase the oxygen tissue concentration and cerebral blood flow to an area which is suffering from hypoxia (less oxygen). It reduces inflammation which restricts blood flow to the brain regions (e.g. speech is) and improves oxygen uptake. Research continues to investigate the possibility of the following benefits / improvements:
• Improving blood flow to key areas of the brain
• Dealing with gut parasites, yeast, bacteria and reducing gut inflammation
• Social abilities,
• Speech and
• Increase eye contact
• Decrease sensitivity to noise and increase general social awareness
Maximal improvement has been reported in children older than five years and in those with milder autism.
Vitamin B12 Therapy:
Vitamin B12 is water soluble vitamin and is part of the B- comple group of vitamins. According to some pediatricians like Dr. Liat AP and Dr. Udell BD, children with autism may have a deficiency of Vitamin B12 as a result of their poor dietary intake. Vitamin B12 is vital for the proper functioning of the brain and nervous system. The most important role of vitamin B12 is in protein synthesis, which is crucial for the growth and regeneration of brain cells. The next most important role is that, it maintains a healthy nervous system and it greatly improves cognitive function.
A few studies have been able to demonstrate the association between decreased intake of vitamin B12 and the diagnosis of autism. Therefore, those children with a deficiency may benefit from the supplementation of the vitamin B12. The theory behind the effectiveness of this intervention is that the METHYL (methylcobalamin) group acts to aid in detoxification and to improve cellular energy. Additionally, administration of high doses of Vitamin B12 has been identified to improve the overall immune system (by increasing activity of the body's TH1 suppressor T-Cells), which have been implicated as an associated problem in individuals with ASD.
Though this area is short of research, individuals with ASD have shown remarkable improvements. Speech, language and communication are said to improve significantly. Other problems like poor eye contact, hand-flapping like self-stimulatory behaviors may also reduce. The only available research evidence is a pilot study that reports symptomatic improvements, but no statistically significant results.