DURHAM — Duke University medical researchers have been awarded a foundation grant of $15 million to study the use of umbilical cord blood cells to treat autism, stroke, cerebral palsy and related brain disorders.
The award from the Atlanta-based Marcus Foundation will cover the first two years of a planned five-year, $41 million project by Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg, who leads Duke’s Robertson Cell and Translational Therapy Program, and Geraldine Dawson, director of the Duke Center for Autism Diagnosis and Treatment.
Kurtzberg and Dawson hope to develop cell-based therapies that can potentially restore brain function in people with the disorders, for which there now are no cures. The project will consist of a series of clinical trials using umbilical cord blood cells to treat a total of 390 children and adults with autism, 100 children with cerebral palsy and 90 adults with stroke.
There are about 2 million people in the United States with autism spectrum disorder, a group of conditions affecting social communication and behavior. Stroke kills an average of nearly 130,000 Americans annually, while cerebral palsy currently affects an estimated 764,000 children and young adults.
Cord blood cells are collected without risk to the mother or baby from the placenta, collected shortly after birth. Cells can be frozen and stored for future use in blood stem cell transplantation or cellular therapies.