Cerebral palsy (CP) is the most common cause of childhood disability and there is currently no cure. The origins of CP are not fully understood but are likely to lie in the fetal developmental period when the fetal brain is most susceptible to injury. Damage to the brain during pregnancy or at birth is the major cause of cerebral palsy. Approximately 95 per cent of newborn brain damage originates during fetal life in utero, or at the time of birth, with term hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), preterm birth and low birth weight being the most important risk factors. There is also a strong association between intrauterine infection during pregnancy, a fetal inflammatory response, white matter damage and subsequent development of CP.
Scientists in The Ritchie Centre are investigating the potential of stem cells, derived from placental tissues and the umbilical cord to ameliorate fetal brain injury associated with cerebral palsy. They hypothesise that administration of human amnion epithelial cell (hAEC) or specific cells derived from cord blood will reduce inflammatory mediators and stimulate neuronal growth and development, thereby protecting the fetal brain against such injury as well as initiating neuroregeneration.