Stem cells from umbilical cord used for cerebral palsy treatment


SINGAPORE: For the first time in Singapore, stem cells from the umbilical cord have been used to treat cerebral palsy – and with positive results.

Every one in 500 babies suffers from the condition worldwide, and the breakthrough could provide hope for more parents in the region, as currently such treatments are mostly done in the US.

Two-year-old Georgia Conn is a much calmer child these days. Until recently, she suffered from frequent seizures, and cried constantly.

Georgia has cerebral palsy, an incurable condition caused by injury to her brain during birth.

On September 8, doctors infused her with her own cord blood; in the hope the stem cells would repair her damaged brain tissue.

Her parents, Michael and Louise Conn, had earlier stored Georgia’s umbilical cord cells with private blood bank, CordLife. The Australian nationals are now Singapore Residents.

“Within two days, Georgia was noticeably happier. Just instantly more smiley, chatty and more energetic. That was the first real indication that something was going on,” said Louise Conn.

“And since then we all feel, and all her therapists feel, that her muscle tone has reduced, which is enabling her to achieve a lot more within her therapy sessions,” she added.

The procedure was done after the Health Ministry gave its approval.

The intravenous transfusion, which took place at Mount Elizabeth Hospital, took about 10 minutes, although tests and post-procedure observation added another several hours. The Conns returned home the same day.

“It is quite a safe procedure. It is like a standard blood transfusion, except that you are using the cord blood cells that were stored. So there is no risk of a reaction, apart from perhaps minor hypersensitivity reactions, as in all blood transfusions,” said Dr Keith Goh, neurosurgeon, Mount Elizabeth Hospital.

The Conns had initially considered seeking treatment in the US, but the H1N1 flu outbreak proved to be just one of several obstacles.

Louise Conn said: “The complication is getting family of four of us – we have a six-month old baby, who was going to be very very small when we go over. The complication was flying us all over there, getting to North Carolina.

“The blood had to leave Singapore and arrive in North Carolina and be infused into Georgia within 72 hours. So there were huge risks involved, just the smallest airline delay could really mess with the whole situation.”

Georgia will have to continue with physiotherapy, and may undergo another transfusion later in life. Her parents hope that in future, she will be able to attend school with other kids her age.

Doctors hope to begin a clinical trial in Singapore next year, to add to the growing research on the area.

– CNA/sc


Original article, by Hoe Yeen Nie of Channel NewsAsia published last December 2, 2009, can be found here.


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