Stem Cell Treatments Not Currently Viable For Autism, According to Report
Embryonic stem cells, which have the ability to develop into many different cell types, have long been the source of heated controversy. They have also inspired hope as potential treatments for crippling diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Now, some parents are advocating for stem cell treatments for autism, a spectrum of related conditions that impair social skills and create restrictive and repetitive behaviors.
In a report this month for the medical website The Conversation, Darius Widera, an associate professor of stem cell biology and regenerative medicine at the University of Reading, noted that stem cells are not currently viable as a treatment for autism, due to a wide range of unresolved questions. Widera also offered background info on stem cell treatments, noting that the cells can be isolated from a patient or donor and turned into cells for the desired organ. Alternatively, they can be transplanted without being changed outside of the patients body, in the hope that the tissue will transform them into the right type of cell on its own.
The promise of stem cell therapies to treat conditions that, like autism, have limited conventional treatments available, has led to an increasing number of under-regulated stem cell clinics in countries such as Germany, Switzerland, the U.S., and the U.K. Most of these clinics rely on a legal loophole that allows the use of stem cells isolated from the patient’s own body as a treatment for debilitating conditions. This process is known as autologous transplantation.
Stem cells treatments for autism are especially difficult, since little is known about the exact type of nerve cells affected by the condition. Many unanswered questions remain, such as what cell types need to be replaced, the viability of adult stem cells, and whether it would be sufficient to boost the patient’s own repair capability. In light of these uncertainties, the Conversation concludes that autism cannot currently be treated with stem cells. The report also acknowledges the more important question of whether autism needs to be “cured” at all, or whether it is simply a form of neurodiversity that society needs to embrace.