Can Stem Cells Cure Autism?
Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as it is more properly referred to, is a growing concern for people all over the world. There’s always going to be some debate about whether or not autism is becoming more widespread, or whether what is happening is a greater awareness of ASD, and more accurate diagnoses occurring, versus the medical professionals misdiagnosing it frequently until now.
After all, it wasn’t until the 1980s that autism was even recognized as a distinct, unique medical condition. Before its appearance in American mental disorder classification systems and literature, ASD and its many different symptoms were often thought to be a form of schizophrenia. This means that until the 1980s, there’s no telling how many thousands or hundreds of thousands of people throughout history had ASD, but medical science didn’t realize it at the time.
Because serious study and understanding ASD is comparatively recent, there’s still a lot to learn about this condition. Moreover, without that complete understanding of autism, what it is and how it comes about, treating it is a challenge, especially with so many different treatment options available for different symptoms.
Now, however, we have a new form of treatment that has been getting some promising results. It’s known as stem cell therapy. But what many people want to know is can stem cells cure autism?
What Is A Stem Cell?
Stem cells are informally nicknamed by medical sciences “Master Cells.” The reason stem cells earned this nickname is because of their incredible versatility. Under normal conditions, if a person grows more hair after a shave, or heals skin after a cut, it is because the existing cells are capable of reproducing more of themselves. Hair cells grow more hair, and skin cells grow more skin. Cells from different sources can’t normally do this, which is why people don’t have liver cells turning into lung cells, or brain cells growing fingernails.
Stem cells, on the other hand, can do this. While it is an amazing piece of human biology, it is far from unusual, as this same process occurs in every pregnant mother during childbirth. A single fertilized egg cell must go from one unspecialized, undifferentiated cell to an entire baby, with distinct lungs, kidneys, eyes, a brain, and all the other highly specialized organs. Stem cells are what make this growth and specialization possible.
The Application Of Stem Cell Therapy
Stem cell therapy is currently only in FDA approved use for one type of medical treatment, and that is blood cancer, specifically leukemia. It was found that stem cells, when introduced into the malignant environment of blood cells reproducing incorrectly due to cancer, could reverse this process. As the stem cells converted over to healthy, normal blood cells, they could encourage the cancerous system to also reproduce proper blood cells, instead of the malignant, cancerous ones.
Because of this, stem cell therapy is now an effective form of cancer treatment, with far fewer side-effects for the patient than the more “scorched earth” approach of chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Both of these therapies kill cancerous cells—as well as any other cells in the area—with the hope that cancer has “burned out” and healthy cells will grow in their place.
Stem Cells Therapy’s Legal Status
For the moment in the United States, the Food & Drug Administration, or FDA has only given general legal approval to the use of stem cell therapy for leukemia treatment. For other disorders, stem cell therapy has not yet been given full approval.
This means, at least in the USA, while it is not criminal to administer stem cell therapy for other conditions, doctors are not performing a legal treatment either. Stem cell therapies for other conditions, such as autism are, however, legal in other countries, such as Panama, Mexico, and Georgia. This means that in these countries, treatment, in addition to further research are both ongoing. In the United States stem cell therapy for other conditions is only available for research purposes, though this may change at some point in the future.
Stem Cell Therapy For Autism
Because stem cells can replace—or create an environment—where the growth of healthy cells is once again possible, it was believed that some types of autism might benefit from stem cell therapy. ASD is a very complex disorder in that many of its symptoms are behavioral, such as introversion, repetitive motions, an insistence on routine, but these symptoms may have roots in physical conditions such as possible brain or neural disorders.
Stem cell therapy can help to manage some of these symptoms by replacing damaged cells with newer, healthier ones. However, it’s important for parents to realize that while this can help to reduce or manage some aspects of autism, it cannot cure ASD. And in some cases, behavioral therapy or other psychological approaches may have more profound, positive affects. Always get a thorough medical consultation before deciding that stem cell therapy is the best solution for ASD treatment.