SACRAMENTO, CA - At 4-years-old Rydr Rudgers is able to eat, speak, and walk -- all things his family wasn't sure he'd ever do after being diagnosed with cerebral palsy as an infant.
"He was born without any brain stem functions; no sucking, no swallowing, no breathing," said Rydr's mother Elisa.
When Rydr was 15-months-old, he began stem cell infusions from his cord blood that was saved in a stem cell bank. Rydr is making great progress after three infusions and can even feed himself.
"These are like huge milestones that people don't think about, but actually being able to hold a fork and eat a sandwich is, in our world, an unanticipated milestone and it's amazing," Elisa Rudgers explained.
"Like autism, cerebral palsy or brain injuries of that nature are a diffused population, it's not one cause," said Dr. Michael Chez, who is the Medical Director of Pediatric Neurology at the Sutter Neuroscience Institute.
Doctors at the Sutter Neuroscience Institute are now beginning research to evaluate cord blood stem cells to help improve language and behavior in autism patients.
The announcement was made on Tuesday morning at Sutter Medical Plaza. It's the first FDA-approved clinical trial that uses a newborn's stem cells from cord blood to treat autism patients.
Doctors will infuse umbilical cord stem cells into the bloodstreams of 30 children diagnosed with autism.
"We feel it will offer a safe and effective answer to the question of whether the cord blood is an effective intervention as a way to introduce stem cell therapy for autism," Chez said.
Autism impacts one in 88 children and one in 54 boys. According to Sutter doctors, a newborn's umbilical cord blood contains a unique population of stem cells that have been used for more than 20 years in medical practice.
"Up until now we've had the sense that stem cells are somewhat science fiction with all this great hope and I think the reality is this is a first step, in a sense a very simple step, to introducing stem cells that are easily available to patients in a non-controversial way," Chez explained.
During the 13-month trial, participants will get two infusions: one of their own cord blood stem cells and one of a placebo.
Chez said it's the first step toward future trials.
"It's sort of like the moon mission was that giant step, this is a small step hopefully leading toward giant steps," Chez said.
Doctors conducting the research are looking for children between the ages of 2 and 7 and their cord blood stem cells must be stored at the Cord Blood Registry.
For more information on the study, call 1-888-536-9826 or visit: CordBlood.com and ClinicalTrials.gov