A 4-year-old boy from Kolkata who is in the autism spectrum has shown improvements while being part of a significant stem cell study currently underway at Duke University School of Medicine, in the United States.The trial involves using the boy’s own stem cells extracted from his umbilical cord blood to treat certain symptoms of autism. The double blind, placebo controlled trail is the second one being carried out at the university. It involves over 165 children in the age group of 2 to 6.Autism is a developmental disorder that impairs the child’s social ability, speech and behaviour issues. At present the treatment is limited to various forms of therapy. There is no clarity on what causes autism and there is no ‘cure.’Apratim’s StoryApratim was a premature baby, born at 36 weeks, says his father Apurba. He hit all the birth and development markers till he was 18 months. It was around then that Apurba and his wife noticed that Apratim wasn’t communicating like other children.We were worried but our local peadiatrician was positive. He asked us to observe him for another six months. We saw no changes in his behaviour. Apurba Dey SinghaAutism is tough to diagnose and it is usually around the age of 2 that most parents spot the symptoms.Apurba consulted a doctor in Delhi who diagnosed Apratim with mild autism, with speech and communication as main issues.The family gave bio medical treatment a shot - therapy, a change of diet, supplements, the works. Still not satisfied Apurba searched the net.I found out that at Duke Autism Center they were conducting a phase 2 trial involving the use of the child’s own cord blood to treat autism. We had preserved Apratim’s cord blood with LifeCell during his birth. We reached out and after a number of tests Apratim was infused with his own stem cells. ApurbaThat was in July of 2017. In the last 9 months Apurba says he’s seen a significant change. His son is communicating more, his cognitive skills have improved, he’s started school and likes playing with his friends.Monthly surveys are carried out and his parameters compared to where he was before he started the trial.The phase 2 trial is still underway and will wrap up in August. After which the results will be published. But the phase one of the trail had offered some hope. 'Cautiously Optimistic’Results from the earlier phase I trial were published April 5, 2017 in the journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine. Of the 25 children who participated, more than two-third children appeared to show improvements in speech, socialization and eye contact, according to the researchers.But the first trail was not placebo controlled and was open labeled - meaning every child was given stem cell infusions. While the findings were significant, the authors were ‘cautiously optimistic.’Dr Joanne Kurtzberg, the principal investigator in the trial was quoted as saying,Parents of children with autism should not interpret these results as conclusively showing effectiveness of this treatment. There is much work still to be done in much larger, randomized clinical studies before we can draw any firm conclusions about effectiveness.Dr Joanne KurtzbergWe’ve written to the university regarding Apratim’s case and are awaiting their response.Stem Cells From the Umbilical CordApratim’s family had preserved their son’s umbilical cord blood at LifeCell in Chennai. Places like these extract stem cells and tissue from the umbilical cord at the time of birth and preserve them for future cellular treatments or blood stem cell transplants.It’s heartwarming to see clinical improvement and development milestones in Apartim. There are many ongoing clinical trials across the world and this certainly gives hope to parents who have preserved their baby’s stem cells at birth.Mayur Abhaya, CEO, MD, LifeCellPeers who’ve reviewed the earlier study say the research is exciting, but a lot more work needs to be done. How do these stem cells interact with brain function that controls autism symptoms? Are there any long term implications?More importantly, are we certain these changes are not a natural progression as children become older?It’s a start in understanding, and perhaps treating, the very complex spectrum.