Stem Cell Therapy for Autism

10 Feb

There are many unproven therapies being used by alternative medicine practitioners on autistic kids. One newer “therapy” is the use of stem cells.

I have yet to see even a good explanation of why stem cells should work. Not even a fully thought out bad reason. And, yet, kids are being “treated” with stem cells.

For those who would like a rundown of stem cells, their use and the potential problems, I refer you to Promtheus’ A Photon In The Darkness blog and his post, Stem Cell Therapy for Autism.

Not to steal his thunder, but here is the part that I am having trouble getting out of my mind. A child was given multiple stem cell “treatments”. Later he developed recurring headaches. On testing…well, Prometheus says it:

In short, this lad had two separate brain and spinal cord tumours. Under the microscope, these tumours were not cancerous, but looked like disorganized neural tissue. When they were tested genetically, the tumours did not match the patient’s genetic markers. They were, in fact, from two separate donors.

Many alternative medical therapies appear to be basically harmless. Give a kid some extra vitamin, or change his/her diet. Stem cell therapy does not fall into that category. When a risk/benefit calculation is done, what can you say but there is significant risk and no discernible benefit.

20 Responses to “Stem Cell Therapy for Autism”

  1. David N. Brown February 10, 2010 at 02:20 #

    A major consideration is that claimed “stem cell” therapies may or may not involve actual stem cells. This is a very controversial technology (at least on this side of the pond), and as far as I can tell even the advocates don’t think it is anywhere near ready for use as a treatment.
    It occurs to me that quacks getting hold of actual stem cells could be an unintended consequence of Bush’s denial of federal funding in the area. When legitimate research is underfunded, it is a foreseeable outcome that shady ventures will snatch up surplus resources.

  2. Sullivan February 10, 2010 at 02:29 #

    David N. Brown,

    As research groups have had to lobby for research funding for stem cells, they have touted them as basically a possible cure for everything.

    The alt-med community basically got free publicity. The public’s mind set has been hearing for years about the grand potential for stem cells.

  3. dr treg February 11, 2010 at 00:19 #

    Prometheus is incorrect re the blog comments on stem cell therapy
    “In the event that someone invokes the concept of “neuroinflammation” as a reason to try stem cell therapy, I’d like to point out that, to date, effective stem cell treatments for “neuroinflammation” and autoimmunity have involved also giving large doses of cytotoxic drugs to kill the errant immune system cells prior to re-infusing the patient’s stem cells. Explain how that would work without the cytotoxic drugs (or radiation) and you’ll get a Nobel Prize in Medicine.”
    Stem cells are being used in several diseases previously regarded as “degenerative” without cytotoxic therapy e.g. heart failure and Parkinson`s disease which are increasingly being recognised as inflammatory diseases.
    Stem cells appear to be attracted to areas of inflammation and reduced oxygen. Brain immunological and oxygen abnormalities are well-recognised in autism.
    Prometheus is confusing stem cell treatment of malignant disease which does require cytotoxic therapy. Autism is a neuro-inflammatory disease and not a malignant disease.

    • Sullivan February 11, 2010 at 01:36 #

      dr treg,

      you would do well to take your question to Prometheus’ blog if you want an answer. My goal here was not to divert discussion away from his blog.

  4. daedalus2u February 11, 2010 at 04:42 #

    I agree, not even a partially thought out bad reason.

    People with autism tend to have larger brains with more neurons. How is adding extra cells supposed to fix that?

    It is a pure scam. I agree with the sentiment that stem cells will always be a future treatment. The problem with things like heart disease is that the already existing heart does not have the metabolic resources to maintain the cells that it already has in a healthy state. The metabolic problems of the heart need to be fixed first. Once you fix those problems, the heart doesn’t need stem cells.

  5. Prometheus February 11, 2010 at 20:48 #

    “Dr. Treg” objects:

    “Stem cells are being used in several diseases previously regarded as “degenerative” without cytotoxic therapy e.g. heart failure and Parkinson`s disease which are increasingly being recognised as inflammatory diseases.”

    Whether or not “heart failure” (a vague description, since many things can cause “heart failure”) and Parkinson’s disease are inflammatory diseases, stem cell therapies have not yet been shown to be effective in their treatment. The fact that they are being “used” in the setting of “heart failure” and Parkinson’s disease is irrelevant – so are chiropractic and homeopathy.

    If and when stem cell therapies are shown to be effective treatments for “heart failure” and Parkinson’s disease, we can revisit the issue of whether the stem cells “work” by reducing inflammation. Until then, any discussion of how stem cells might work should be tabled until it is shown that they do work.


  6. Kimberly February 19, 2011 at 22:11 #

    @Clay, I’m curious, what is autism, if not a disease/disorder?

  7. Clay February 20, 2011 at 05:02 #

    You really should ask someone who is more academic than I am, and I really should ignore you, because your question isn’t straightforward – you slipped in “disorder”, which I said nothing about. That’s a sign of a troll.

    Come back with your real name, and I’ll give you a real answer.

  8. Peptides September 4, 2011 at 08:24 #

    Cell Therapy is doing wonders for alternative treatments! I’m so excited to see the developments to come!

  9. Science Mom September 4, 2011 at 22:24 #

    Peptides or spammer du jour, where is the evidence for your claims?

  10. max November 13, 2011 at 02:50 #

    All this stem cell therapy thing for autism is just a crap it’s just a way to extort money from patients. In india chaitanyastemcell pune centre is doing this. Not a single patient is benefited till date no reference is given of any patient who has been treated.Also the therapy is not recognised by ICMR (indian council of medical research) They are doing only experiment on helpless patients.
    New research shows that autistic brains has more neurons than normal persons only the neuronal connections are not in a proper way. So what’s the point of making new neurons in brain by stem cell therapy. Though other modes of treatment works better like son-rise programme which helps brain making new connections. Ihave seen drastic improvements from these therapies.
    So do not waste your money.

  11. McD November 13, 2011 at 08:31 #

    Hi Max,
    I would like to hear more of your story.

  12. max November 16, 2011 at 14:51 #

    stem cell therapy for Autism is not approved anywhere in world & not enough research is done till date. Recently in U.S First Cord-Blood Transplant Therapy has been Approved by FDA that is only for haematological disorders i.e pertaining to blood only.
    As the exact cause of Autism is still unknown so how can it be treated by stem cell therapy.As in countries like INDIA,china, and costa rica there are not enough laws to check these type of treatments and doctors are taking patients for ride. They hide all the side effects and dangers of the procedures involved.In india private nursing homes are doing this to exploit poor patients to rob off their hard earned money.

  13. Myriam April 13, 2012 at 13:24 #

    I personally know someone who has had stem cell therapy for ms and her condition has greatly improved. I am a mother with a child with autism and will try anything to help how can you bag something until you experience for yourselves

  14. Science Mom April 13, 2012 at 14:11 #

    I personally know someone who has had stem cell therapy for ms and her condition has greatly improved.

    That’s nice Myriam but not only is it n=1, but an anecdote and you leave out every shred of relevant medical information.

    I am a mother with a child with autism and will try anything to help how can you bag something until you experience for yourselves

    Um, most of the commenters here and all of the blog authors have children on the spectrum so you aren’t unique. Why bag stem cell therapy for autism? How about no proof of efficacy and a lot of incidence of harm. Don’t be snookered by lofty claims by charlatans who will blithely empty your wallet but in the end, can’t provide your child with any improvement and may harm him/her in the process.

    • Sullivan April 13, 2012 at 22:26 #

      “I am a mother with a child with autism and will try anything to help how can you bag something until you experience for yourselves’

      My kid is autistic. I will not try things where I can’t make a reasonable estimate of risk/reward.

      Can you tell me what the chances are of an adverse reaction to the “stem cell therapies” that are currently marketed for autism? Can you even list what the potential adverse reactions are?

      Can you tell me what the expectation is for reward from stem cell therapies? Something more specific than “greatly improved”? Can you tell me what fraction of patients actually achieve these gains?

      There is a prominent alt-med doctor in the autism community who was performing exorcisms. I’m good with skipping that, even though he claims that it was helpful. There were parents storing feces in buckets for a week and then feeding it to their kids with gastro-nasal tubes obtained from veterinary supply stores. I’m good with skipping that.

      Chelation is based on an unsound model of autism. I’m good with avoiding that. If I had any idea that my kid had heavy metal intoxication, I’d take my kid to a medical toxicologist, not some alt-med practitioner who spent a few hours at a DAN symposium.

      In case the point isn’t clear–I won’t try “everything”. I’ll weed out things that aren’t tested or are clearly (and somethings–like stem cells–are clearly) not a good idea.

  15. Sonny illiano July 17, 2012 at 14:17 #

    I haven’t seen any explanations why it shouldn’t work. There is a reason all the top world class athletes use stem cells and celebrities just Google it. It’s bout money and what you can afford and regular people can’t afford the legitimate treatment. It’s no coincidence the autism is 1 out of 88 in the USA and 1 out of 1000 in Iceland. They don’t want you cured. There’s no reward without risk who’s gonna take care of these autistic when there parents are its gonna be your tax dollars.

    • Sullivan July 17, 2012 at 14:45 #

      Well if celebrities are doing it, it must be good medicine. That’s the argument?

  16. anil June 14, 2015 at 15:50 #

    Stem cell treatment at chaitnya stem cell centre pune is useless ln autism.they are just exploiting the helpless parents of autistic child by false fact,stemcelltreatment at chaitnya ls ineffective

    • Sullivan (Matt Carey) June 14, 2015 at 16:30 #

      There is no evidence that stem cell therapy anywhere is of value.

      There is at least one clinical trial ongoing. I’m not confident of the study at present given the way it was massively touted on launch. The PR people on that team were more active on launch than most studies are on success.

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