Monday, February 21, 2011

Autism - Can Stem Cell Therapy Cure the Disability?

We are entering a new frontier when we talk about stem cell treatment. Although it is available in several countries such as China, Costa Rica, Germany and Mexico it is still in an experimental stage. Basically the therapy involves introducing new cells into areas of tissue that have been damaged. Since stem cells have the ability to self-renew this offers a potential to take diseased tissues and replace them. It is possible that the future may open the door for them to one day assist in improving those people who have been diagnosed with autism.
In the United States, President Obama has cleared the way for embryonic stem cell research. The key word in the last sentence is research. Stem cells have the ability to develop into a different type of cell, sometimes to many different types. These exist in our bone marrow, our brain, and under our skin. It is difficult to understand how they work and what they can do. Any parent considering taking their child for such treatment should first do a considerable amount of research. Understanding this type of therapy requires more than simply understanding some terms - it requires an education in and of its own.
Since we still do not know what causes autism this creates the questions: How can we use this method to treat the disability? How do we know what areas to treat since we do not know the cause? We do suspect that genes, brain development and other issues might be possible causes. Even so, we do not know which genes and we do not know which parts of the brain are involved. This causes me the concern of how and where are these cells being placed (in these countries where the therapy is offered). This leads me to think of this very low-level comparison: I do not have a recipe to make fudge; however, I want to make a batch and I want it to turn out perfectly. Hmmm, should I choose plain milk or chocolate milk? Should I add chocolate chips or, instead, should I add marshmallows? Should I remove the ingredients once they begin to boil? During what part of the process should I add some walnuts?
The point I am trying to make with the simple example is this: How does a doctor use this treatment when there is no given menu, or plan? Where will the doctor concentrate when we are not sure of where the disability originates? How many cells should be injected when we are not certain what one injection may or may not do? I am certain you can come up with your own questions - and, you want your questions answered fully before you embark on such a treatment. Since I am not a doctor I certainly am not in a position to recommend this treatment. However, I am in a position to strongly recommend that you first do your homework before you decide this is a treatment you want to offer your child.
This particular treatment for autism may have a great deal to offer in the future; however, at present, in my opinion it is risky. Make certain you understand everything: carcinogenic transformation, pluripotent stem cells, viral vectors, autologous embryonic stem cells and so forth. Once again, if you are a parent determined to offer your child this treatment make certain you fully understand the concept along with what you can expect - as well as what you may not expect.

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