Stem cell therapy and autism-A A +A
Wednesday, November 6, 2013
STEM cell therapy is one of the most controversial topics that make parents of children with autism curious and excited. Is this safe and effective for our children? How is it done? Is this already the miracle cure that we all have been waiting for?
As soon as I opened my mails after Day 2 of the 13th National Autism Conference that was held on October 26-27, 2013, this was the first question that I got: is it the answer to improving the lives of individuals with autism?
The resource person who talked about stem cell therapy was Dr. Antonio Dans. He is the President of the Philippine Society of General Internal Medicine and a professor of the UP College of Medicine, Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Department of Internal Medicine. He is also one of the Academicians of the National Academy of Science and Technology. He practices internal medicine at the Philippine General Hospital, a government facility that serves indigent patients from all over the country. His research and publications have ranged from clinical trials on novel drugs for primary and secondary prevention, to epidemiologic studies on burden of illness and causes of cardiovascular disease in the Philippines.
Given his credentials, it could have been very easy for him to say whether stem cell therapy have been proven to cure autism and other diseases and we, the parents, could have easily jumped into the bandwagon of those seeking for a medical cure for our children.
However, Dr. Dans emphasized that while there are indeed cases of successful stem cell therapies, for example, patients with cancer or blood disorder such as leukemia or a diabetic patient whose conditions improved and therefore leg amputation was no longer necessary, there is a need to conduct clinical trials.
The US Food and Drugs Administration defines clinical trial as “a research study in human volunteers to answer specific health questions. Carefully conducted clinical trials are the safest and fastest way to find treatments that work in people, and new ways to improve health.” In the United States, the FDA supervises the conduct of clinical trials before introducing a new treatment, medicine or use of an invasive medical device on human beings.
The outcome of a case study about stem cell therapy is much different from outcomes of a clinical trial because a case study involves only one person while a clinical trial involves groups of persons. A patient in a case study may say that a treatment may have been 100 percent effective for him as an individual, but the probability of cure may become lower using the same treatment for a group of 100 patients.
According to Dr. Dans, clinical trials are conducted to determine effectiveness of a treatment for a specific type of illness or groups of people. There may be reasons why patients get well after a treatment: maybe it was a placebo effect, or maybe the patient received other treatments, or maybe the body healed itself. Clinical trials are also conducted to assess side effects of a treatment. Some examples of side effects are: aggravation of existing cancers, severe allergic reactions, graft versus host disease (rash, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, jaundice, etc.).
Clinical trials are expensive. There are only about 121,428 studies conducted on stem cell therapies all over the world and 378 randomized clinical trials on stem cell therapy but zero for autism cases. One of most successful studies on stem cells can be found in Australia. (http://www.stemcellsaustralia.edu.au/About-Stem-Cells.aspx)
If my understanding is correct, the procedure for stem cell therapy seems simple: fat cells are taken from the patient and subjected to a laboratory procedure that will separate the healthy stem cells which will be injected back to the body of the patient.
Given all these information, it is really up to the parents of children with autism to decide for themselves whether stem cell therapy will be good for their children or not. Until the end of his talk, Dr. Dans maintained his objective view about the topic and left the conference participants to formulate their own views on stem cell therapy.
Jane Ann S. Gonzales is a mother of a youth with autism. She is an advocate/core member of the Autism Society Philippines and Directress of the Independent Living Learning Centre (ILLC) Davao, a centre for teenagers and adults with special needs.
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Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on November 06, 2013.