New Study Says Cord Blood Could Improve Infant Brain Injury

A new study published in the journal Brain Research suggests that cord blood could improve infant brain injury.  The study shows promise that multiple doses of umbilical cord blood (UCB), rather than a single dose, could be effective in treating infant brain injuries caused by oxygen deprivation during pregnancy or childbirth. 

Now, researchers hope that this new study will open doors for clinical trials to test UCB treatment in infants with brain injuries. 

UCB Treatment to Improve Infant Brain Injury

UCB is a promising treatment option for many different conditions.  For infants with brain injuries, UCB has the potential to prevent further damage and improve outcomes.  More specifically UCB may improve poor motor and cognitive outcomes for infant brain injury, especially for children with cerebral palsy.”

The study, which was done in Australia, notes that one in 700 infants born in Australia have cerebral palsy.  Infants who receive treatments like whole-body cooling still often suffer long-term disability.  Many infants do not survive their injuries.  With this in mind, the prospect that UCB could improve infant outcomes is more than promising. 

Research shows that UCB treatment using stem cells is safe and effective at treating perinatal brain injuries when the treatment is administered in the short-term.  Tayla Penny, a scientist at the Hudson Institute says,

“We have demonstrated that a single treatment improves long-term behavioural outcomes, but does not protect the brain from physical injury.   In this study, we compared the long-term efficacy of a single dose of UCB versus multiple doses.  For the first time, we’ve discovered that giving multiple doses of umbilical cord blood stem cells is able to improve behavioural outcomes, but most importantly, also reduces long-term physical injury to the brain.”

Multiple doses of UCB shortly after the brain injury occurs could reduce the likelihood of the infant developing cerebral palsy.  Penny further notes of her research,

“Current therapies available for these babies are often ineffective and are only appropriate for babies born at term, with no other existing conditions.  Because of this, it is important that we develop new treatments for babies who are oxygen deprived.  For this, we are turning to stem cells derived from umbilical cord blood (UCB).”

Stem Cells Offer Hope for Oxygen-Deprived Infants

Research shows promise that stem cell therapies may be effective in treating infants who are deprived of oxygen during pregnancy or childbirth.  Current therapies primarily rely on hypothermia treatment, or cooling therapy.  These methods are effective at treating brain injuries in term infants who have no other conditions.  However, they are sometimes ineffective at treating infants who are premature, have other conditions or are significantly oxygen-deprived.

The hope is that stem cell therapy derived from UCB can help prevent brain damage from continuing or worsening.  This can help preserve healthy brain function and reduce the chances of the infant developing significant cognitive or brain dysfunctions. 

It is important to note that some placenta issues can compromise cord blood viability. It is important for women to discuss UCB with their healthcare provider.

Information about Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is an umbrella term that refers to postural and motor impairments that infants may suffer due to brain damage while the brain is still developing.  Cerebral palsy is commonly linked to brain injury during pregnancy, during childbirth or within the first month of life.  Some of the causes for infant brain injury that leads to cerebral palsy are:

Types of Cerebral Palsy

There are various types of cerebral palsy – many of which are the result of infant brain injury.  In Australia, estimates suggest that around 34,000 people have cerebral palsy.  In the United States the number is much greater, with an estimated 800,000 people suffering from some type of the disorder.  The common types of cerebral palsy caused by brain injury include:


A rare type of cerebral palsy that affects the fine motor skills. Children with this type often experience balance problems and speech impediments.  Many have difficulties doing fine motor tasks, such as tying shoelaces or using a pencil. 


This is the most common type of cerebral palsy. People who have athetoid cerebral palsy describe feeling like they are trapped inside their bodies.  Muscles are weak and the individual may not have control over movements. 


Similar to athetoid, this type of cerebral palsy includes involuntary twitching, or choriform.


Also called spastic diplegia, this type of cerebral palsy involves tense muscles and muscle spasticity in the lower muscle groups. This type rarely involves the upper body. 


Athetoid cerebral palsy is also called dyskinetic. This term usually means that the disorder is the result of an brain injury from bilirubin encephalopathy or a hypoxic-ischemic brain injury.   


This type of cerebral palsy is primarily related to abnormal muscular movements. Most often, the individual experiences muscle spasticity, slow movements or writhing movements. 

Periventricular Leukomalacia

A brain-related type of cerebral palsy that causes less problems with muscles and more problems with cognitive function. Children with this type experience developmental delays, intellectual disabilities and often develop epilepsy. 

Spastic Quadriplegia

A type of cerebral palsy where the child has no control over arm or leg movements. This is a severe type of the disorder that can make it difficult for the child to move and develop properly.  It is also incredibly painful.   

There are other types and classifications of cerebral palsy, but these are the most common types that result from infant brain injury. 

Is Cerebral Palsy Treatable?

There is currently no cure for cerebral palsy.  There are a variety of treatment options that can help manage symptoms and improve quality of life.  Treatment options include:

These treatment options can help a child with cerebral palsy overcome physical and cognitive limitations.  It can help them develop, grow, strengthen and learn how to manage everyday life. Your child’s overall cerebral palsy prognosis will depend on a variety of factors related to his or her health.

What is important about research like the UCB study above is that it offers hope that infants who suffer brain damage may not be as vulnerable to developing disorders like cerebral palsy.  UCB therapy may lessen the impact of brain damage or potentially reverse damage recently done.  That could also mean that infants are less likely to develop cerebral palsy, or that if they do, it is not as severe. 

Sam Uribe

Written By Sam Uribe

Sam Uribe is a researcher and writer. She lends her expertise to the team at Birth Injury Guide to provide up-to-date and relevant content that clients can count on.