Dr. Bruce Hensel
A Southern California girl with cerebral palsy is participating in an experimental treatment that infuses her own umbilical cord blood into her body. Scientists say the cells in the cord blood may repair damage in the body. Dr. Bruce Hensel reports for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on July 29, 2013.
Complications during an oral surgery injured Grace Rosewood's brain so much so that when she celebrated her second birthday, the young girl could barely walk or even lift her head.
"She was diagnosed with hypotonic cerebral palsy, so she’s weak all over her body, but it’s not from the muscles, it’s from the brain," OIivia Rosewood said. "She had difficulty picking things up. She couldn’t hold a pencil, and it was not just the coordination, it was the strength."
So when Olivia heard about a cutting edge procedure being pioneered at Duke University using infusions of umbilical cord blood, she signed Grace up.
Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg, a researcher at Duke University who was conducting a clinical trial, said the cells in cord blood may have the ability to repair damage in the body.
"We are taking cord blood that parents have banked when children were born, thawing them out and washing them, and infusing them directly into the child’s blood," she said.
"The cells are smarter than we are. And they are attracted to areas of injuries by signals given off by the cells inside the child’s body that are near the injury."
Grace received three infusions of her own cord blood this year, which was banked right after she was born.
"Some of the cells have properties that will allow them to decrease inflammation and prevent damage after an injury. Some of the cells have properties that allow them to give off signals to cells already in the body to repair damage in various organs, including the brain. Some of the cells are actual stem cells that can turn into cells of the nervous system and replace missing cells," Kurtzberg said.
The procedure is experimental and Kurtzberg is still waiting for the results of a larger double blind clinical trial.
"We are encouraged, and we have a lot of data in animals to make us enthusiastic about the fact that we expect these cells to make a difference. But until we have the results of the trial we can’t be sure," she said.
Grace, now 5 years old, has shown big improvements, Olivia said.
"We’ve already seen these amazing changes in her. We’ve seen her for the first time be able to write her name. First to be able to hold a pencil," she said.
"She’s already gotten so much strength. She’s dancing. She’s walking forward, backwards, sideways, in circle. That’s the most beautiful thing, to see her light up."
Grace was dropped from her insurance when she was 2 because of her preexisting condition. Olivia is using crowdfunding to help pay for the procedure.
Kurtzberg is also working on an initiative that would make donor cord blood available to patients who didn’t get their own cord blood banked at birth.