Two children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have been allowed by the Delhi High Court to undergo stem cell therapy for treatment last week.
Why was the court’s permission needed for it? FIT breaks it down.
What stem cell therapy is: Stem cells are basically cells that form all the other cells of your body – for instance, blood cells, brain cells, etc.
Since stem cells have “regenerative properties,” they are used to treat blood cancers. For now, treating ASD using stem cell therapy has only been done as experiments.
However, experts are wary about using stem cell therapy for ASD.
After clinical trials gave “mixed results” for ASD patients, the National Medical Commission’s (NMC) Ethics and Medical Registration Board (EMRB) said that without enough evidence to show that this actually benefits patients, stem cell therapy should not be used.
It’s not just lack of data though. Stem cell therapy is
can have side effects that can be severe in some patients
And more importantly, its long term effects on autism patients are not yet known.
A 2022 study, titled Efficacy and Safety of Stem Cell Therapy in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis, too says that while stem cell therapy does indeed seem to have safe and effective in children with ASD, more studies are needed to "systematically confirm the efficacy and safety."
A 2018 study had the same conclusion too.
"Taken together the limitation considerations and the promising ameliorative effects of cellular therapies in ASD treatment, more complete and exhaustive investigations and large trials will be needed in order to claim definitive results."2018 study titled 'Stem Cell Therapy in Autism: Recent Insights'
Why the court had to intervene: The EMRB had in December last year recommended that stem cell therapy not be used for treating patients with ASD, saying that doing so would amount to “professional misconduct.”
The families of the patients, who were already undergoing this treatment, petitioned to the Delhi High Court requesting that the treatment be allowed to continue.
The court, in its order, said that stopping the treatment would serve “no fruitful purpose” and ruled in the families’ favour, while leaving it up to NMC to take a broader call on the treatment method.
Is there another way to treat ASD then? While there is no “cure” for ASD, there are multiple kinds of therapies that help those with autism, for instance speech therapy and behaviour therapy.
As far as stem cell therapy for ASD is concerned, practitioners in the United States and various countries in Europe do use that too. However, like the NMC in India, Australia has recommended against it too.