Apartim Dey Singha of Kolkata, India, is now four years old. Although his birth was a month premature, as an infant he passed all his developmental milestones on time. It was not until he reached 18 months of age that his parents noticed his communication skills were not progressing 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 Singha, Apratim’s father
Apratim saw a specialist in Delhi who diagnosed him as having Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Autism refers to a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences. Each person with autism presents differently, but has enough of the traits to be recognized as being on the spectrum.
Apratim’s family researched interventions to improve his language skills and tried several approaches. They learned that in 2014, the same year Apratim was born, Duke University launched the first in a series of clinical trials treating autism with cord blood stem cells.
Results from the first Duke trial of cord blood therapy for autism were published open access in April 2017. In that pilot study, participants showed significant improvements in measures of social skills, expressive vocabulary, severity of autism behavior patterns, and eye-tracking response to stimuli. The children’s scores were measured by both parents and clinicians using established behavioral scales developed for autism. The observed improvements appeared within 6 months of cord blood therapy.
In a press release from Duke University, lead investigator Dr Joanne Kurtzberg expressed “cautious optimism” but urged parents not to jump to conclusions:
“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.” – Joanne Kurtzberg, MD
Apratim’s cord blood had been stored since birth with LifeCell International, the largest family cord blood bank in India. His parents asked to participate in a clinical trial at Duke, and after a number of tests he was accepted. The therapy took place in the United States in July 2017.
In the 9 months since the cord blood therapy, his father says he has seen significant changes in Apratim. He is communicating more, his cognitive skills have improved, he’s started school, and he likes playing with his friends.
“We were happy that we made a wise decision of preserving our baby’s umbilical cord stem cells at birth in 2014 with LifeCell, which were used to treat my son for autism. Today, we are seeing great progress in terms of development milestones in my son.” – Apurba Dey Singha