There's nothing Jenny and J.D. Stephenson wouldn't do for their son Weston. That included banking his umbilical cord blood when he was born.
"We weren't guaranteed to need it for anything," said Jenny.
But they would need it. When Weston was 10 months old, doctors diagnosed him with cerebral palsy.
"Of course you want the best for him, and you never want anything to be wrong," said Jenny.
Weston is developmentally delayed and has trouble using the left side of his body. There's no cure for his CP, but there's hope in his cord blood.
As part of a clinical trial at Duke University, Weston receives his first infusion. He's not happy about it, but his parents are thrilled.
"This was just the most exciting thing we had heard," said Jenny.
"If this is beneficial, it could really change the lives of those children," said Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg, Duke University Medical Center.
Kurtzberg says the theory is cord blood cells can decrease inflammation, coax normal cells into fixing damaged tissues, and grow into new cells.
"Cord blood cells can graft and grow into some types of brain cells," said Kurtzberg.
Patients in a Phase 1 trial reported improved speech, mobility and movement. But Kurtzberg says that study did not compare the cord blood to a placebo. The new study that Weston is a part of does.
It's new hope for a little boy whose parents want the best for him.
"It's why you get up every day and go to work," said J.D. Stephenson.
"My hope is that we'll see a miracle, really," said Jenny.
Kurtzberg's trial is still enrolling patients. To be eligible, your child must have a CP diagnosis, be between 1 and 6 ears old, and their cord blood must be available.
WEB EXTRA INFO
BACKGROUND: Cerebral palsy (CP) is a group of disorders that can impair brain and nervous system functions. Patients may have issues with movement, learning, hearing, seeing, and thinking. CP is caused by injuries or abnormalities in the brain. Most of these problems happen as the baby grows in the womb, but they can also happen at any time during the first two years of life when the baby's brain is still developing. In some patients, parts of the brain are injured because of low levels of oxygen. Premature infants have a slightly higher risk of developing CP. Other conditions like bleeding in the brain, brain infections, head injuries, infections during pregnancy and severe jaundice can cause CP.
SYMPTOMS OF CP: Symptoms of CP may vary, depending on the severity of the disorder, but they usually are present before a child is 2 years old. Some of these symptoms include: muscle tightness, abnormal gait, joint tightness, muscle weakness or loss of muscle movement, abnormal movements, tremors, unsteady gait, loss of coordination, speech problems, hearing or vision problems, seizures, pain, problems with swallowing, and floppy muscles.
STANDARD TREATMENTS: There is no cure for CP. Currently, doctors may subscribe medications to lessen muscle tightness and improve functional abilities. Drugs can also relieve pain and manage complications associated with spasticity. Injections of Botox may also help isolated spasticity. Physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy may also be used to enhance functional abilities. Surgery may be needed to lessen muscle tightness or correct bone abnormalities caused by spasticity.
NEW HOPE: Researchers from Duke University Medical Center are studying whether infusions of a child's own cord blood could help improve the symptoms of CP. Children with the spastic form of CP who are between ages 1 and 6 and have their own cord blood available for use may enroll in the clinical trial. The cord blood is infused intravenously. Because it is the child's own cord blood, there is no risk of rejection. "There's a huge need to be able to come up with a treatment for cerebral palsy for children who have lifelong problems," Joanne Kurtzberg, M.D., from Duke University Medical Center, told Ivanhoe. Dr. Kurtzberg says if her research proves to be a success, the next step is to try to use cord blood to prevent CP. She is currently conducting a study where she is treating newborns that have low oxygen at birth with their own cord blood.