New Research May Help Those With Cerebral Palsy




More than 400,000 children and adults in the United States suffer from the brain disorder cerebral palsy. Now, neurologists may have found a way to use stem cells to bridge the gaps in the brains of those affected.

While kids his age test their flexibility, five-year-old Thomas struggles to pick up his building blocks. he can't speak, eat or even sit-up by himself. Thomas has cerebral palsy.

"It's more difficult for him to do things and he realizes that," says Thomas' father, Richard Ellenson. "to watch him be so goal-oriented, it's a really inspiring thing."

Brain scientists say some types of cerebral palsy occur when an unborn or newborn's brain is deprived of oxygen. This destroys nerve cells that don't grow back. In kids like Thomas, that could leave gaps in their brain, disrupting communication. This leads to loss of brain function and muscle coordination.

Evan Snyder at Burnham Institute is trying to bridge such gaps. He uses stem cells that can develop into any kind of cell or tissue in the brain or spinal cord. But when he tried to graft these cells into the injured brains of mice, he found the gaps too wide.

"To simply take cells and put them in this abyss, the cells would really not be held in space, they would drip away," says Snyder.

So Snyder layered stem cells onto a tiny biodegradable scaffold and grafted that into the brain. This helped the stem cells get a foothold and develop into nerve cells.

"By that time, this plastic synthetic scaffold has started dissolving, and what you're left with is new brain tissue," says Snyder.

Snyder plans to test how safe and effective the therapy is before trying it in humans. So while Thomas masters his building blocks, scientists may be closer to re-building his damaged brain.

"I'm just a dreamer who dreams of better days"