Autism, or ASD, as it is more accurately referred to these days, is a very complex condition. On the surface, it’s easy to call it a “behavioral disorder,” since the most common symptoms shown are those of behavior and not so much physical symptoms, such as pain or issues with specific organs. This doesn’t mean that ASD doesn’t have any physical symptoms at all, just that the bulk of the symptoms used for diagnosis tend to be actions displayed by someone with ASD rather than something strictly related to condition of organs.
However, one of the biggest challenges with ASD is how to treat it. ASD, unlike many disorders, has a huge range of different behavioral symptoms. It has so many, and at differing intensities, that for generations, some aspects and symptoms of ASD were thought to be entirely separate conditions, not all part of the same disorder. This is why, up until 1980s, ASD itself wasn’t even properly acknowledged as a distinct condition, and some people with ASD before this were even diagnosed as schizophrenic.
Today, there are many different diagnoses and approaches to treating ASD, and more and more knowledge is being discovered about this disorder. One thing that is definite—at least with today’s medical science—is that there is currently no known cure for ASD. The symptoms, however, can be managed, and stem cell transplants are one approach to managing the condition.
What Are Stem Cells?
Stem cells might also be thought of as “origin cells,” since they are most abundant during a critical period of a person’s life, as a baby, growing in a mother’s womb. In medical science, stem cells have the nickname “master cell” because, unlike other cells in the human body, they can grow into anything.
Under normal circumstances, when you grow more hair, that comes from hair cells. When you’re cut, and your skin heals, the new skin is formed from other skin cells. So after the birth, the cells that can reproduce in greater numbers can only copy themselves, a lung cell can’t start growing new brain cells. During pregnancy, however, one unspecialized, fertilized egg cell must divide and form new organs like kidneys, a skeleton, and a nervous system. It is stem cells, abundance during the pregnancy stage, that perform this task of differentiating themselves according to the “map” outlined by DNA between parents mixing at conception.
What Is A Stem Cell Transplant?
As you may have already guessed from the name, a stem cell transplant is a medical technique where stem cells are taken from one source and introduced into a new environment, namely a patient. This is a very effective and well-established medical procedure, though, in the United States, it is currently only legal and medically approved for one treatment, and that is fighting blood-related cancer like leukemia. Cancer can affect any part of the body, but the general effect is the same. “Mutant” cells that are defective start reproducing that defect in great numbers, eventually overwhelming the healthy cells.
Stem cells introduced into a leukemia patient can eventually replace the faulty blood cells that are replicating and create a new, stable system of healthy blood cells, restoring the balance to the body.
Where Do Stem Cells Come From?
For a stem cell transplant to work, there are two major sources, right after the delivery of a baby, and in the bone marrow. During pregnancy, a fertilized egg produces a huge volume of stem cells, more than actually required for a baby to grow, and these stem cells, like other fluids in the womb, are constantly being exchanged with other substances through the umbilical cord, which carries vital nutrients from the mother to the baby, and carries waste from the baby away.
Once the baby has been born, a significant volume of these “pluripotent” stem cells remain in the umbilical cord and placenta. This “cord blood,” if enough foresight is used, can be stored away, cryogenically preserved, and used at a later date with the child.
Stem cells are still available in smaller, less versatile numbers in the human body after birth. They are stored in the bone marrow. This means, to harvest these cells, that surgery is required to cut into some bone and harvest these cells.
How This Helps
While the research is still being done for the specific mechanisms of stem cell transplants and ASD, some promising results have already been seen in some patients. Issues like inattentiveness, or hostility show dramatic improvement in some ASD children after a stem cell transplant has occurred.
It’s important to note, however, that a stem cell transplant should not be the first or only solution that families arrive at. Different variants of ASD symptoms will require different approaches. Stem cell transplants can’t fix everything, nor should they be expected to, but they do show results in some cases. Other ASD patients may benefit from prescription medication or even behavioral therapy.