It’s a discussion I’ve often had with my wife Linda over the years.
As I share with her the latest findings about how to rid our daughter’s body of heavy metals, and bacterial and viral infections my wife asks the inevitable question that her years of training as a speech therapist compels her to ask: How much damage has been done between the time of injury and the time we addressed these problems?
Because she works as a speech therapist in the rehabilitation unit of a major hospital she has seen the damage done to the brain by car accidents, strokes, and cancer. She has seen startling recoveries, understands the value of hope, but also knows that many times the dream of complete recovery goes unfulfilled.
It has been with great interest that I’ve been investigating the idea of stem cells as a treatment for autism. In 2007 an article entitled “Stem Cell Therapy for Autism” was published in the Journal of Translational Medicine and I’ve learned that the authors of that paper have treated many children using this approach with in some instances, amazing results.
The idea behind how stem cells work is relatively easy to grasp. Simply put, stem cells home in on low oxygen environments, and once in place, start fixing the damage. Whether this is through the release of nerve growth factors or the stem cells merging with the damaged cells and “fixing” them is unclear at this point.
One of the most consistently replicated findings in autism is that of low blood flow to those areas of the brain responsible for speech and social interaction. An interesting explanation for this finding is recent research from Ohio State indicating that mercury causes the release of phospholipase-D which constricts blood flow and with it, oxygen. (“Mercury Activates Vascular Endothelial Cell Phospholipase D through Thiols and Oxidative Stress” – International Journal of Toxicology, 2007 Jan.-Feb.)
It stands to reason that those areas of the brain in which mercury deposited itself would subsequently find themselves starved of blood and the accompanying oxygen. One can imagine that those areas of the brain which are developing the network necessary for speech and social interaction must be ravenous consumers of oxygen. Cutting off that supply would conceivably lead to a near atrophy of those areas.
Could the lack of oxygen at a critical period of development cause autism?
The use of CD-34 stem cells has been shown to promote the growth of new blood vessels in damaged areas such as end-stage heart disease and poor blood flow into arms and legs. CD-34 stem cells have been used in various procedures since 1988 and have compiled an excellent safety record.
The authors of the original paper on stem cells and autism also believed that the gut problems of these children could be addressed using stem cells. Their theory is that the gastro-intestinal problems experienced are the result of immune disregulation. Mesenchymal stem cells, taken from bone marrow, assist in modulating the immune response.
One of the first children to be treated with this combination of CD-34 stem cells and mesenchymal stem cells was Matthew Faiella. I spoke recently with his father Daniel. Readers can go to his web-site www.recoveringmatthew.blogspot.com for more information about his son.
Matthew is seven years old and prior to the stem cell treatment his parents had tried numerous therapies, including bio-medical, ABA therapy, mild H-BOT, and vitamin supplementation. The mild H-BOT had given some positive results, but not the dramatic changes for which they were looking.
Daniel thought it important to note that the CD-34 stem cells are derived from umbilical cord blood and thus are not subject to the ethical concerns inherent with embryonic stem cells. Aside from the ethical concerns regarding embryonic stem cells there are some formidable scientific challenges as well.
The first problem is that anywhere from 50%-70% of all embryos naturally abort themselves because of genetic errors. If one uses stem cells derived from an embryo there is no way of knowing whether that embryo would have developed into a viable organism.
Second, embryonic stem cells have shown a propensity to develop into cancer cells. In 2002 Chinese researchers reported the successful formation of tumors from stem cells, and in fact, the development of tumors in mice injected with embryonic stem cells showed that the scientists had actually cultured such cells. There is a report of a man with Parkinson’s disease who was treated with embryonic stem cells in China subsequently developing a cancerous tumor in his brain which later killed him.
While deciding whether to seek stem cell therapy for his son, Daniel met with Valerey Cabrera and her daughter Patricia. According to Valerie, a year before starting stem cell treatment at the age of eight, Patricia was in diapers, had poor social skills, and only communicated in grunts. The child Daniel saw was very high-functioning, and according to her mother had gone from the lowest in her class to the top. (A news story on this case can be found at www.youtube.com by typing in the words “Autism cure?”)
From his research and what he learned from Valerey Cabrera, Daniel decided to seek treatment for his son at the Institute of Cellular Medicine in Costa Rica. The course of treatment involved four injections over a four-day period for a total of 7.5 million CD-34 cells and cost approximately $15,000. (He did not use the mesenchymal stem cell treatment at that time.) After the first treatment in February of 2008 he noticed that within a few days Matthew became calmer, more talkative, and more aware of his surroundings.
Other changes included raising his hand in class, asking questions, comprehending more, and the cessation of bed-wetting. Additional benefits included being comfortable enough to go on amusement rides, the disappearance of his activity-induced-asthma, and the development of a sense of empathy. When his mother arrived home feeling ill after having dental work, Matthew said he would take care of her until she got better.
Daniel and his wife were so pleased by the progress their son made after the treatment in February that they went back for an additional treatment in June of this year.
I discussed the treatment protocol with Donna Gates (author of “The Body Ecology” diet), who has been involved with the effort to use stem cells with autistic children from the beginning. Her opinion was that for many of the children who start bio-medical interventions early that they may not need stem cell treatments for recovery. However, for some of the older kids who are still struggling with recovery it may be just what they need.
Current estimates are that about 50-60% of the kids treated with this therapy have responded positively, sometimes dramatically. It is thought that those children who are most likely to benefit are those children who have undergone significant removal of heavy metals as well as addressing the various bacterial and viral infections, but still have not shown expected recovery. Further study is continuing to discover those factors which are most likely to result in full recovery.
The use of stem cells for autism at the Institute of Cellular Medicine in Costa Rica has been something of a victim of its own success. Approximately fifty children have received the treatment, and like Valerie Cabrera and Daniel Faiella they’ve wanted to discuss the results with the local media.
However, Costa Rica is reticent to be drawn into the current debate over vaccines and autism and thus wants to keep any work done in the field relatively quiet. The United States company, Medistem, Laboratories Inc. which licenses its stem cells to the Institute of Cellular Medicine in Costa Rica is currently looking to transfer its autism program to neighboring Panama. The program in Costa Rica is not currently accepting new patients, but hopes to in a few months in Panama.
Could stem cells be a therapy which might help those children who have not responded as well as hoped to current bio-medical practices? I’ve written before about how when my son Ben went mute for twelve days after his eighteen-month shot I immediately put him on the gluten/casein free diet and now he’s entering third grade at the top of his class, both socially and academically.
By contrast, my daughter who was four-years-old when we started her on the gluten/casein free diet as well as all of the other bio-medical treatments over the past six years still can’t walk into a class, speak clearly, and has to wear a diaper.
I have seen recovery and the failure to recover.
But I remain hopeful that science may yet give us answers. I’ve heard people talking about a window during which a child may be pulled out of autism. Maybe that was what I was able to do with my son. Can stem cells widen that window so I can now extract my ten-year-old daughter? It is another question for which I don’t yet have an answer. But it gives me a possible answer to my wife’s question.
Yes, there probably is damage to our daughter’s brain.
However, stem cells may be able to address that problem. The quest to help our children has not yet reached the end of the road.
If you’d like further information about this therapy you can go to www.cellmedicine.com or call 1-800-980-7836.
Kent Heckenlively is Legal Editor for Age of Autism.
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