Cord blood for cerebral-palsy patient


SINCE her birth, little Georgia Conn has had to grapple with the effects of cerebral palsy – suffering up to 50 seizures a day, in the last 21/2 years.

She developed the disorder that affects movement when an accident at birth damaged her brain tissues and nerves.

Her mother, graphic designer Louise Conn, 35, said: “It was heartbreaking. We couldn’t do all the things parents take for granted, like going to the shops, as she would scream in pain.”

But, after receiving stem-cell treatment using her own cord blood – blood containing stem cells – in September this year, Georgia has regained muscle strength and can sit for more than an hour without pain.

She is the first person to have undergone such treatment here, where neurosurgeon Keith Goh injected her stored cord blood into her veins.

Similar procedures have been performed in the United States and Europe.

Dr Goh estimated that one in every 500 babies is affected by cerebral palsy, which results in poor muscle coordination, involuntary facial and limb twitches, or muscle stiffness.

Conventional treatment can improve the muscle tone of the limbs, but it does not solve the root problem of damage in the brain, which controls the body’s motor functions, said Dr Goh.

Injecting cord blood into the patient is believed to result in a significant portion of stem cells going to the brain to repair the damaged neurons, he said.

This has been proven effective in trials on animals, but more studies on humans are needed, he said.

The Health Ministry approved the use of this treatment for Georgia, as it involves her own cells.

He is monitoring Georgia’s condition to see if she will need more injections of cord blood.

He will start a clinical trial next year to test the efficacy of using stem cells to treat people with cerebral palsy.

About 10 patients will be involved in the study. The youngest is aged seven months and the oldest is six years old.

The Conns said that they went ahead with the unproven procedure as “any change in her condition would be a great improvement in the quality of life”.

The couple, both permanent residents here, dipped into their own savings to pay for the treatment cost of “slightly under $10,000”, as insurance companies would not cover Georgia’s condition, said her father, banking director Michael Conn, 37.

They estimated that they had saved tens of thousands of dollars by having the therapy here instead of the United States.

Mrs Conn, who had an easy pregnancy, said that they signed up to bank cord blood with private blood bank CordLife a week before Georgia was born.

They never thought they would have to use it.

“It took us over 18 months and an enormous amount of research to find information about the potential for using stem cells, if any, and especially using a child’s own cord blood to help children with cerebral palsy,” said Mrs Conn.

While they recognize that Georgia’s development will be a lot slower, they hope she will be able to “learn the basic human movements and do what comes naturally to most children”.

Original article, published by Asia One on December 3, 2009, can be found here.


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