Autism Spectrum Disorder, better known clinically as ASD, has taken centuries to be properly recognized. In the past, some forms of ASD were misdiagnosed as schizophrenia because some ASD symptoms responded to the use of antipsychotic medication. Even when ASD was finally recognized as a distinct disorder, there were still issues with diagnosis due to the insistence on trying to fit all ASD patients into one of four categories, such as “high functioning Asperger’s Syndrome,” and then restrict treatment to whatever was recommended for that category.
Today, while the understanding of ASD is far from complete, there’s been much more progress and a better understanding of this condition. Unfortunately, one of the largest obstacles to fighting ASD remains, and that is, as with some other medical conditions, there is currently no cure available with the level of medical science available.
This doesn’t mean, however, that there’s no hope for people diagnosed with ASD. The spectrum and intensity of symptoms that make up ASD mean that while no cure exists, there are plenty of treatment options to overcome some issues of ASD. Behavioral therapy, for example, is one way for ASD patients to take control of their lives and train themselves to surpass the limitations that ASD may have imposed on them, such as difficulty in communicating.
Other new forms of treatment are in the wings, such as cord blood treatment. But what is it, and what does it bring to the table for those diagnosed with ASD?
What Is Cord Blood?
Cord blood is a generic term for umbilical cord fluids. These are the substances that are leftover after the birth of a child, that is no longer required in the mother’s body. While a child is growing in the womb, there is no direct eating or breathing through the mouth. Instead, all oxygen and nutrients are delivered “direct” to the baby through the umbilical cord, a literal lifeline that makes it possible for an infant to survive in the liquid environment of the womb without chewing on food, or drowning on fluid.
Aside from carrying nutrients, and carrying waste out, one of the most important substances contained in the mixture of cord blood is stem cells. Stem cells are a unique type of cell that only appear in large numbers during pregnancy. This is why, in modern medical facilities, after a child has been born, it’s common to request that the stem cells remaining in cord blood be harvested for future use. People, similar to organ transplants, can only accept stem cells with a high rate of compatibility, which means either the stem cells used during their growth in the womb or the stem cells of a close genetic relative, such as a sibling.
What Do Stem Cells Do?
Stem cells have, in medical science, earned the nickname “master cells” because they can do something no other human cell can do. Stem cells start “blank,” with no initial function, and can “reprogram” themselves to become any cell in the human body. This means that even heart cells, which normally do not reproduce once a person is born, can potentially heal if introduced to stem cells that can grow into heart cells.
Not all stem cells can do this. Cord blood contains this version of stem cells, known as “pluripotent.” After birth, humans no longer create this type of stem cell within themselves. A less versatile version is produced in bone marrow, but these stem cells confine themselves to becoming different types of blood cells, such as red, or white. Only the stem cells found in cord blood can take on the properties of any human cell.
What This Does For ASD
ASD has behavioral symptoms for the most part, but the underlying causes for those symptoms can be neurological. That is to say; there may be physical neural reasons for some of the behavior shown by children diagnosed with ASD.
This is where cord blood treatment comes in. Though ASD itself has no cure, some of the symptoms may be mitigated—or even removed—if there is a medical issue with the neural network or neural transmitters within a child. The introduction of stem cells into affected neural areas may encourage the growth of newer, uninfected nerve cells and neural transmitters.
This is how leukemia, a form of blood cancer, is already successfully treated through stem cell therapy. In those cases, the less versatile stem cells from bone marrow are usually employed, although since the goal is to replace cancerous blood cells that don’t reproduce properly with new, uninfected healthy ones, the desired outcome is still achieved.
For now, however, at least in the USA, stem cell therapy is only legally authorized for leukemia treatment. Cord blood treatment is being aggressively researched in other areas, including ASD treatment, and even incurable diseases like Alzheimer’s, but these treatments are unavailable to the public. Other countries, however, like Georgia, are offering these stem cell treatments, even if the USA is not.