Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a heterogeneous group characterized by social, behavioral, and communication impairments. Due to the unknown etiology of ASD and the varying range of disorders, no effective cure has been found.
Stem cell therapy, however, is a promising cell-based approach to treating varying symptoms of ASD and slowing down symptom progression. Stem cells certainly hold the potential to reshape the autism narrative by offering novel therapeutic possibilities.
Let’s look at how diverse autism can be, some effective treatment options, potential treatment options like stem cell therapy, and its role in treating the disorder.
The diverse world of autism spectrum disorder
Autism spectrum disorder is a diverse world of neurodevelopmental disorders that can impact an individual’s social interaction, communication skills, and behaviors. How autism affects a person varies from person to person in terms of strengths, weaknesses, challenges, and perspectives.
The multifaceted nature of ASD can include [doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2014.05.012].
The spectrum of abilities and limitations
Autistic individuals express varying abilities, challenges, and characteristics. While some individuals have exceptional cognitive abilities, they may face communication, sensory processing, or executive functioning challenges.
Diverse communication styles
Autistic individuals exhibit different communication styles. While some lack verbal communication skills and rely on sign language, others may show exceptional verbal skills.
Sensory sensitivities are a hallmark of ASD. In most cases, autistic individuals may be hyper or hypo sensitive to sensory stimuli like lights, sounds, textures, or smells. These sensitivities may lead to sensory overload or avoidance behavior.
Social interests and perspectives
Autistic individuals often tend to have unique and intense interests in certain subjects. These interests and perspectives can be a source of relief, joy, and motivation for them.
The search for effective autism treatments: A brief history
Researchers have been on the quest to search for effective treatments for ASD for the past few decades. These treatments have helped alleviate and target specific symptoms to support ASD. Some key advancements that have shaped and evolved the understanding and symptom management are:
The very first approach to managing autism involved aversive conditioning and reward-based interventions. However, these interventions had short-term effects and ignored the disorder’s underlying cause.
Psychodynamic therapies involved exploring unconscious conflicts and emotional factors that were believed to be triggering autism but gradually gave way to other interventions.
The educational intervention targeted developmental delays in children with autism [doi: 10.1007/s10803-021-04990-1].
Applied behavioral approaches utilized behavioral approaches to improve communication, social skills, and behaviors.
Medications became popular in the late 20th century to target hyperactivity, anxiety, and aggression. Moreover, specialized diets and medications also gained popularity. However, their impact on underlying autism symptoms is still controversial.
Individualised treatment plans
In recent years, multidisciplinary approaches and individualized treatment plans have gained much popularity. Autistic individuals go through customized therapies that are a combination of speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, and social integration therapy rather than one.
Stem cell therapy
Currently, stem cell therapy is the most promising form of regenerative medicine for treating autism. The therapy targets symptoms and most importantly, the underlying causes of ASD [doi: 10.1007/s10571-020-00882-7].
The emergence of stem cell therapy and a promising autism treatment
Stem cell therapy has emerged as a promising treatment solution for not just autism spectrum disorder but so many other diseases. Stem cells, due to their anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory, and differentiation properties, help treat the underlying biological abnormalities associated with the spectrum disorder. However, the effectiveness of stem cell therapy depends largely on the following:
- Type of stem cells being used.
- Route of administration.
- Stage of the disorder.
- Patient’s condition.
Autism treatment with stem cells involves:
- Promoting neuroregeneration
- Modulating neural circuit
- Restoring neuronal functions
- Modulating Immune response
- Reducing neural inflammations
The mechanisms of stem cells in treating autism
Although, the mechanisms of attaining stem cells to treat underlying symptoms are still being investigated. Some of the known ways how stem cell therapy works are:
- Neuroregeneration and neural repair;
- Immune regulation and suppression;
- Increased synaptic plasticity and connectivity;
- Neuroprotective effects;
- Regulation of neurotransmitter imbalance.
Different types of stem cells and their applications
Stem cells are of various types with unique properties and applications, for instance:
- Embryonic stem cells: These are used for cell transplantation to study early human development and disease stages.
- Induced pluripotent stem cells: These cells have significant potential for developing personalized medicines, disease modelling, and drug recovery.
- Mesenchymal stem cells: They are highly immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory cells largely used in regenerative medicine.
- Hematopoietic stem cells: They are largely used for hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) for treating leukemia, lymphoma, and certain immune disorders like multiple sclerosis.
- Neural stem cells: These specialized cells are able to differentiate into neural cells, including neurons, astrocytes, and oligodendrocytes, and hold promise for treating neurological disorders and injuries.
The use and mechanism of attaining stem cells depend upon the application, nature of the disease, and characteristics of the target tissue or organ. In autism spectrum disorder, stem cells offer a promising therapeutic approach for treating neural inflammations and inhibiting immune responses associated with underlying causes of the condition. Thanks to this, it is possible to manage the symptoms and improve the quality of life of the patient.