In April 2017, we reported that researchers from Duke University had published results from their phase 1 autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and cord blood study. Researchers initially found, after the primary cord blood infusion, that “among 25 children ages 2 to 5, more than two-thirds appeared to show improvements in speech, socialization, and eye contact, as reported by parents and assessed by researchers.”
Recently, they’ve released more information, this time on the electroencephalography (EEG) results of the children who participated in the study. EEG testing was performed before the children were given the initial cord blood infusions, and then again at their 12-month follow-up appointment. Researchers compared the results to determine if there were any changes.
Their findings? Researchers found that after children had received the cord blood infusions, their EEG patterns more closely resembled the EEG profiles of children without the autism diagnosis.
These changes were found to be statistically significant, which suggests the cord blood infusions may have contributed to these changes in electrical activity in the brain.
What is an EEG, and how does it work?
EEG stands for electroencephalography. It measures the electrical activity in the brain over a period of time, using small electrodes attached to the scalp.
When different groups of neurons fire, they produce distinct patterns of electrical activity, also known as “brain waves.” And these sets of neurons fire differently depending on whether we’re resting or engaged in a specific type of activity.
The distinct “electrical signatures” in these brain waves are useful for diagnosing sleep disorders and conditions like epilepsy. Similarly, researchers have noted that children with ASD exhibit patterns of EEG activity that are visibly different from those of children without an ASD diagnosis.
Why may EEGs prove important?
First, if EEGs turn out to be a useful way of measuring brain waves in clinical trials for autism, it could help us understand how the brain changes after cord blood therapy.
Second, they could potentially help us identify which children will respond well to cord blood treatment before they are treated. EEGs could also help doctors better characterize autism or potentially diagnose it sooner.
Although this was a pilot study without a control group for comparison, these results provide a glimpse into a potentially exciting future. It’s encouraging that there was some amount of EGG “normalization” after cord blood infusions—and that these results further supported the changes that parents reported observing during the phase I trial.
More is in the works! Duke has already completed recruitment for their phase II study, and data collection is well underway. This follow-up study is also expected to include EEG data collected during the trial.
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