Israeli doctors harness cord blood to fight cerebral palsy

Containers with blood specimens. Credit: Tom Mallinson via Wikimedia Commons.

(Israel Hayom/Exclusive to A day after she was born, Noa had a stroke and began convulsing. Now, two years later, a promising new treatment at the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, outside of Tel Aviv, could help her battle cerebral palsy (CP).

Noa, whose real name is being withheld at the request of her family, is the first patient to undergo this special treatment at an Israeli hospital. It involves a cord-blood transfusion from siblings or a suitable match, and it is performed only on children and babies. It was approved specifically for use on Noa due to the unique circumstances of her case, in what is often referred to as "compassionate use."

"Studies have shown that cord blood, and the stem cells it may contain, can help to treat brain injuries," said Omer Bar-Yosef, a pediatric neurologist and at the Edmond and Lily Safra Children's Hospital at the Sheba Medical Center.

"It was tested on animal models where the offspring was hurt at birth and consequently suffered from CP, be it because of compromised blood flow to the brain or for other reasons. In those cases, transfusions of umbilical cord blood during the first hours or days after their birth had a positive effect on the brain tissue and on performance. Now this method is being tested on humans," he said.

The trial is run jointly with Taburit, a company that preserves umbilical cord blood.

Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg, a professor of pediatrics at the Duke University School of Medicine who is considered the world's leading expert in this field and directs the Carolinas Cord Blood Bank, one of the largest cord blood banks in the world, also found in one of her clinical trials that children who received cord blood transfusion improved their motor skills by 30 percent when compared to the control group.

According to Bar-Yosef, those born with CP currently have no available treatment, and only rehabilitative care such as physiotherapy and speech and language therapy, But this new method "appears to yield positive results."

"She still has CP, so this is not a 180-degree turnaround, but we have begun to see her cognitive skills develop, and she uses many more words," said Noa's mother, Tamar.

Posted on April 20, 2016 .