Umbilical Cord Blood Stem Cells Offer Hope in Treating Autism

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Ryleigh Gregory did not always consider her sister, Gracie, “sweet and kind.” Gracie used to throw tantrums and kicking and screaming fits at home, out at dinner and even at Walt Disney World. Ryleigh and Gracie’s parents, Gina and Wade Gregory, said Gracie would consume as much as 75% of their day.

A little after two years old, Gracie was diagnosed with mild to moderate autism, a condition characterized by problems with overall behavior, social interactions, language development and sensory sensitivity. It was shortly thereafter that Gracie’s parents sought out a new clinical trial at Duke University looking at the safety and efficacy of using stem cells from the umbilical cord blood to treat her autism. Since then, Gracie has never been the same.

On a scale of 1 to 10, Gina and Wade say her improvements have been around an 8 or 9. They says her autism now affects only 10% of their day and that Gracie’s tantrums have gotten much better, she shows more affection and she can better handle stressful social situations. Up until this change in Gracie’s behavior, she did not seem to fit in any specialized school programs. Today, Gracie is able to attend—and thrive in—”regular” school.

Cord blood and cord tissue banking

Cord blood and cord tissue are special because of the stem cells they contain. Stem cells are the building blocks of our tissues and organs. The stem cells in cord blood and cord tissue are the best stem cells we can collect because of how young they are, how easy they are to obtain at birth and how likely they will be free of disease and other environmental contaminants. Parents bank their baby’s cord blood and cord tissue to help protect their family’s future health.

What can cord blood and cord tissue stem cells be used for?

Cord blood is rich in a specific type of stem cell that is the foundation for your baby’s immune system and go on to form all the cells of the blood. They are the preferred treatment for nearly 80 diseases including cancers, anemias and metabolic disorders. Also, recent clinical trials have taken a huge step forward and have demonstrated that cord blood is effective in treating autism and cerebral palsy, two significant conditions afflicting children.  There is also much promise to use cord blood to treat multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and even Alzheimer’s disease.

The umbilical cord tissue is more abundant in a different type of stem cell than found in cord blood. These cord tissue stem cells are the precursory cells for our nervous systems, sensory organs, circulatory tissues, bones, skin, cartilage and more. Cord tissue stem cells are currently being investigated for their ability to treat ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), heart disease, arthritis, spinal cord injury and cartilage damage.

How to choose a cord blood bank?

As banking your baby’s precious cord blood and cord tissue is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, it is important to choose the right cord blood bank to extract and cryo-preserve your baby’s stem cells for the possible future benefit of the entire family. Not all cord blood banks are equal, and it is important to choose a reputable, long-lasting company that goes the extra mile to ensure its clients receive a premium service.

When you compare the top cord blood banks, here are some questions you should ask:

  • Is the cord blood bank well-established, and does it run its own lab?
  • Is the cord blood bank held to high standards through third-party accreditations (AABB, FACT)?
  • Does the cord blood bank offer a well-insulated collection kit?
  • Does the cord blood bank cryo-preserve the cord blood in a bag with multiple compartments so that it could possibly be used multiple times?
  • Does the cord blood bank’s processing method get rid of a significant number of red blood cells while capturing a large percentage of stem cells?

In the end, parents like the Gregory’s would rather not seek out a cord blood treatment but rest all little better knowing they have it available if needed.

“I think it’s supercharged her learning curve. It’s pushed her to do things she normally wouldn’t do,” said Wade.

“She got better, and we’re just thankful for that,” added Gina.

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Menopause and hormones: What you need to know

Menopause may be more openly discussed now than it was in past generations, but for many modern women there is still confusion and a lack of information about Menopause treatments such as hormone therapy.

Menopause marks the end of female reproduction, and although women know that they will experience menopause, they may not understand what hormone therapy is and how it is used to treat menopause symptoms.

Menopause can be a challenging time for women, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) reports that three out of four women experience hot flashes during menopause, while other symptoms can include mood swings, sleep disturbances, loss of libido and vaginal dryness.

What Is Hormone Therapy?

Menopause causes imbalances in a women’s hormones, and hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is the most effective treatment for common menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness.

In essence, hormone therapy uses female hormones — Estrogen and Progesterone — to treat common symptoms of menopause and aging. Doctors can prescribe it during or after menopause. HRT replaces hormones your body no longer makes after your regular periods have ceased. Hormone therapy can be administered via pills, patches, creams, pellets, sprays or a vaginal ring.

The risks associated with some hormone treatments have been well publicized in reports from the Women’s Health Initiative and other studies. Media coverage about additional benefits, outside of menopause symptom relief, is often contradictory. The topic is a complex one which requires further study.

The type of hormone treatment you use, and the risks and benefits, will depend on your individual circumstances, such as how long it has been since you entered menopause, your history of breast or uterus cancer, and whether you have had a hysterectomy.

A combination therapy of Estrogen/Progesterone/Progestin Hormone Therapy is usually prescribed for women who still have their uterus. This is because taking estrogen without progesterone raises your risk for cancer of the endometrium, the lining of the uterus. Progesterone lowers that risk by thinning the lining.

For women who have had a hysterectomy, the surgery to remove the uterus, a low dose of just Estrogen is often prescribed.

Hormone Therapy Risks:

Like most medications, there is a risk of side effects associated with Hormone Therapy.  The type of drug, the way it’s taken, and when treatment started all play a role in the level of risk, while personal circumstances and health history are also important factors.

  • Like the birth control pill, both estrogen therapy and estrogen with progestogen therapy increase the risk of blood clots in the legs and lungs with oral estrogen. The risk of blood clotting increases with age.
  • Some studies by the Women’s Health Initiative have shown an increased risk of breast cancer after five or more years of continuous estrogen/progestogen therapy. The increased risk decreases after hormone therapy is stopped.
  • There is still a lack of data around the risks of hormone therapy for women who have had breast cancer. Non-hormonal therapies should be the first approach in managing menopausal symptoms in breast cancer survivors.

The level of dosage and length of treatment, along with your personal health circumstances, will determine whether the risks outweigh the benefits of hormone treatment.

Hormone Therapy Alternatives:

  • Alternative approaches to treating menopausal symptoms include certain types of antidepressants, yoga, or dietary supplements.
  • Relizen is another option. It is a safe, effective, and non-hormonal dietary supplement made from a proprietary blend of Swedish flower pollen extract.

More Information About Menopause and Hormone Therapy:

Please discuss the specifics of your situation with your AOA provider. Call Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com.