Cord blood breakthroughs

January 20, 2010 10:27:32 PM PST
It's already helping cancer patients and those suffering from blood disorders. Now, doctors are using umbilical cord blood to tackle a whole new set of incurable conditions. From brain damage to diabetes, cord blood is giving kids a better life. Ellen snaps a quick picture of a bag of cells, cells she hopes will change her son's future.

"It was just kind of miraculous," Ellen said. "You just watched these stem cells dripping into him."

A stroke at birth caused 6-year-old Max's cerebral palsy. He's one of about 150 kids getting infusions of his own cord blood at Duke University. The hope is that the stem cells in Max's cord blood will improve his brain function.

"Cells go to the brain after we infuse them in the blood, and they can help repair damage in the brain, and we're hoping in children with cerebral palsy that will happen as well," said Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg, director of the Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C.

Doctors have reported the cord blood stem cells have the potential to reduce Max's muscle tightness, improve his mobility and help his speech over the next year.

On another cord blood front, researchers are using infusions to fight type I diabetes.

After diabetic Barrett Ross received a cord blood infusion, he cut his insulin use by two-thirds. He's had diabetes for three years and his body is still producing insulin.

"The results that we have experienced as a result of this study, in my mind, are staggering," Barrett's father, Brian Ross, said.

Researchers believe stem cells in the blood slow the immune attack of diabetes so the pancreas destroys fewer insulin-producing cells.

"It is very exciting," said Dr. Desmond Schatz, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville. "I take care of children with diabetes all the time. I know what it is that they go through."

Cord blood still isn't a cure-all.

"It's still an experimental procedure and we know there are no guarantees," Ellen said. "Our philosophy has always been if it couldn't hurt and it might help, we're gonna try it."

But it's a wager parents are placing on the hope of a healthier future for their kids.

Under 2 percent of parents bank their child's cord blood at birth. All parents have the option, but it can cost up to $2,000 up front and about $100 a year to store it.


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