Press Releases

Press Release: Public forum to demystify stem cell treatment for cerebral palsy and urge caution about overseas ‘stem cell tourism’

21 May 2013

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA, TUESDAY 21 MAY 2013 - An expert panel of clinicians and scientists will tonight urge families to exercise caution if considering embarking on unproven stem cell treatments overseas for their children with cerebral palsy – the most common physical disability in childhood.

More than 250 people are expected to attend tonight’s forum – Stem Cells & Cerebral Palsy: The Promise & The Progress – which will detail investigations into the possibility of later this year beginning Australia’s first clinical cord blood trials in search of a breakthrough treatment for cerebral palsy.

The forum is being jointly hosted by Cerebral Palsy Alliance, Stem Cells Australia and NSW Stem Cell Network. It will also be live streamed to cater for expected interest from thousands of families living with cerebral palsy throughout Australia and overseas.

Associate Professor Iona Novak, Head of Research with Cerebral Palsy Alliance and 2013 Fulbright Scholarship recipient for her work into stem cell research, says it is vital that Australian families are updated on what’s fact and what’s fiction in stem cell science developments.

‘Parents are urged to be cautious if considering embarking on costly and clinically unproven stem cell treatments overseas for their children with cerebral palsy’, Assoc Prof Novak said.

‘The health and wellbeing of the person with cerebral palsy are paramount, which is why we urge families to be patient whilst we undertake exciting investigations into holding evidence-based clinical stem cell trials here in Australia. 

‘Results coming from a recent South Korean study certainly offer the first possibility of using cord blood and erythropoietin for treatment of cerebral palsy and we are keen to integrate these findings into our plans to later this year  begin two Australian clinical stem cell trials.’

The recent clinical trial in South Korea (Umbilical Cord Blood Therapy Potentiated with Erythropoietin for Children with Cerebral Palsy: A Double-blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial, Dr Kyunghoon Min) has raised the possibility that cord blood along with erythropoietin (which increases red blood cell numbers) could one day be used to treat and ultimately prevent cerebral palsy.

Speaking from personal experience at the forum will be Stephen Archer, who in November 2010 took his then 5-year-old son Zac to North Carolina for cord blood treatment for his cerebral palsy.

‘We researched stem cell treatments thoroughly. Given our belief that cord blood treatment wouldn’t cause Zac any harm, we went ahead in the hope it would provide him with improved movement and reduced impact from his cerebral palsy’, Stephen said.

‘We don’t believe we have seen any great improvement in Zac since he was treated. However, with some of his cord blood remaining, we would consider the possibility of similar treatment within a clinical trial setting.’

Associate Professor Megan Munsie from Stem Cells Australia welcomes the possibility of stem cell clinical trials in Australia and urges parents to think twice about participating in unproven treatments overseas. 

‘There is no doubt that stem cell research around the world is entering an exciting new phase with possible new therapies for many conditions now being investigated in clinical trials.

‘We still have so much to learn about stem cells. We need more than hope that stem cells will work, we need evidence and participating in clinical trials is the best way to find out whether stem cell research can deliver the longed for benefits for generations to come’, she said.

The free public forum - Stem Cells & Cerebral Palsy: The Promise & The Progress – will be held 6:30pm-8pm Tuesday 21 May at Cerebral Palsy Alliance (187 Allambie Rd, Allambie Heights).

 It will be live streamed at www.cerebralpalsy.org.au with questions also taken via twitter #stemcellandcpforum

Panellists will be:

  • Assoc Prof Iona Novak – Cerebral Palsy Alliance
  • Assoc Prof Megan Munsie – Stem Cells Australia
  • Prof Euan Wallace – Monash
  • Dr Ngaire Elwood – Murdoch Children Research Institute
  • Stephen Archer –parent who pursued overseas stem cell treatment for his son Zac

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