Cerebral Palsy (CP) is the most common childhood developmental disability. Usually occurring after stress during or around labour, it affects roughly 2.5/1000 live births and costs the economy an extra $8.2 billion per year (or $1.5 million per child per lifetime). Largely due to CP’s complex and multi-faceted cause, total numbers of children with the disease have not decreased proportionally to increases in the quality of health care over the past decades. Current treatments for CP are limited and focus mainly on disease management and rehabilitation. Working with the national CP network, we will create and test new and relevant stem cell-based therapies to successfully treat this disease. In the brain, neurons send electrical signals down to the arms and legs to tell the body to move – like signals down an electrical wire. Supporting cells called glia produce myelin insulation around that wire, enhancing signal speed and strength. In newborns, after stress, these glia die first. Without their support, neurons die next, particularly those that control movement, and this leads to poor muscle control and other symptoms of CP. We have shown previously that transplanted neural stem cells can restore function by replacing lost spinal cord glia. However, it is unknown whether these cells, when transplanted into the brain, produce myelinating glia like they do in the cord. Also, a new type of stem cell, called the induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC), has been discovered, that represents a potentially unlimited source of cells that can be made into neural cells and transplanted. IPSCs can be made from patient skin, avoiding tissue rejection and donor waiting lists, as well as ethical considerations linked to other types of stem cells. Our research investigates the potential for transplanted stem cells to enter the brain, replace damaged myelin-producing cells and to increase function. Further studies are currently extending this into animal models of the two most common CP types, to see if cells can help restore function in those situations as well – either by themselves, or in combination with other current clinical strategies.
Some Cerebral Palsy Resources & Information: