Cerebral palsy is a neurological disorder caused by damage to certain parts of the brain. Although the disease is not progressive and the underlying damage does not get worse, there is currently no cure for cerebral palsy.
The complex nature of the condition, involving motor function difficulties and a host of co-occurring medical problems, often makes it difficult to treat. In addition to finding a cure, research focuses on reducing the severity of symptoms and helping each patient enjoy the best possible quality of life.
Each cerebral palsy patient has unique symptoms and limitations, so individual treatment plans use every available tool to make a difference. Various forms of therapy address physical, emotional and intellectual challenges facing CP patients.
The use of assistive devices, medication and surgical intervention also prove beneficial for managing the condition. Researching a cure uncovers new treatments and techniques for managing cerebral palsy, helping specialists adapt therapy programs to the abilities and goals of each patient.
Although there is no cure for the disorder, research and neuroscience advances continue to improve outcomes, leading to new treatment alternatives and fewer complications for cerebral palsy patients.
Researchers Work on a Cure
Hope remains for a CP cure, but research also helps manage the condition. Current efforts strive to reduce symptoms and limit the impacts of brain damage tied to the disorder.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH), through its National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), is a leading supporter of cerebral palsy research. The organization is responsible for identifying causes and risk factors for developing the disorder, as well as creating drugs for treating spasticity and other CP symptoms. Another NIH agency, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) is also active in the fight, conducting and funding cerebral palsy research.
Research scientists study nerve cells in the brain, gaining better understanding about the ways neurons behave, and how early developmental damage can lead to cerebral palsy. Researchers also look at potential genetic causes, attempting to isolate genes responsible for the developmental abnormalities behind cerebral palsy. Using samples taken from cerebral palsy patients and their family members, scientists apply genetic screening techniques to identify genes linked to the disorder.
Further studies look at the effects of particular events experienced by newborn babies. It is thought bleeding, seizures, breathing problems and circulation issues may release chemicals responsible for cerebral palsy. This type of research could lead to new drugs capable of protecting the brain from the harmful effects of early childhood events. Imaging studies are also underway, enhancing doctors’ ability to predict babies most at-risk for developing the disorder.
Stem Cell Therapy
Stem cell research for cerebral palsy is currently in its early stages, but the medical technology holds promise for brain-injured patients. There are no stem cell treatments available for cerebral palsy, at this time. However, scientists are using several types of stem cells to investigate potential benefits for CP patients.
Stem cell therapy may not furnish a cure for cerebral palsy, but researchers hope it will someday be used to limit brain damage and lessen the severity of CP symptoms. As damage occurs, leading to cerebral palsy, brain cells can be lost completely. Implanting stem cells may prevent this, if the procedure can be done quickly, before cells are permanently damaged.
These stem cell theories are being explored and may lead to new CP therapies:
Replacing lost cells – It may be possible to replace lost or damaged brain cells, using brain and spinal cord cells, called neural precursor cells. These cells develop into specialized brain cells, so this ambitious prospect relies on complex understanding of the brain, which may take many years to develop.
Injecting stem cells to protect or repair nerve cells – Research shows injected stem cells help protect damaged nerves in animal subjects, which may translate to benefits for CP patients.
Using stem cells to study CP – Research labs use stem cells to produce various forms of brain cells, which can be used to study the effects of cerebral palsy.
Developing drugs – Stem cells are present in the brain, so it may be possible to activate these existing cells to protect and repair damaged tissue.
Clinical trials test treatment theories, using cerebral palsy patients to measure the effectiveness of new forms of medication and therapy. Cord blood infusions, for example, may prove beneficial to cerebral palsy sufferers, so clinical studies are currently underway, evaluating the positive impacts of the procedure.