Saturday, July 18, 2009

Clinic Notes: Stem Cells and Autism

Several years ago I read an article about a small stem cell company (StemCelInc.) who was trying to develop a cure for Batten Disease, a neurodegenerative disease of childhood. Children with Batten disease progressively loose function at an early age and eventually die. It is a horrible disease. I read all I could find about the company and its efforts and was so impressed that I bought stock, hoping that my small investment would help fund their research efforts. Since then I have bought other stem cells companies and closely followed their research efforts. Several companies, one of which is StemCells Inc., have received approval by the FDA to proceed with Phase 1 studies. In Phase 1 studies the safety of the drug, or procedure, is evaluated. Phase 1 is followed by other Phases to assess the success of the drug, or procedure, and potential side effects. Several companies, including StemCells Inc have now completed Phase 1 trials and the FDA is reviewing the results before allowing clinical trials. With mixed emotion I read in a recent Schafer report that a child with Autism from Maine was receiving stem cell therapy for his autism. Since stem cell therapies have not been permitted beyond Phase 1 trials in the US this child went to Costa Rica for his "therapy." The report mentioned that the treatment was expensive, that's no surprise, and they are starting a support group for parents who are interested. Of course, as a clinician I am very much against this for safety reasons and I feel like the expensive treatment is primarily motivated by greed. But then, if I were a parent of a child with autism I wonder how I would feel.