Duke Medicine has announced a $15 million grant from the Atlanta-based Marcus Foundation in support of an effort to explore the use of umbilical cord blood cells in treating autism, stroke, cerebral palsy, and related brain disorders.
The grant will fund the first two years of a planned five-year, $41 million research project led by Joanne Kurtzberg, MD, chief scientific and medical officer of the Robertson Cell and Translational Therapy Program at Duke, and Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D., director of the Duke Center for Autism Diagnosis and Treatment, to develop cell-based therapies aimed at restoring brain functions in people with brain disorders. The project will include a series of clinical trials using umbilical cord blood cells to treat three hundred and ninety children and adults with autism, one hundred children with cerebral palsy, and ninety adults who have experienced a stroke. A preliminary trial involving twenty pediatric subjects with autism using their own banked cord blood is already under way. If successful, the study could identify therapies for further evaluation and eventually improve the quality of life for millions of children and adults.
"Joanne Kurtzberg has done groundbreaking work on cord blood transplantation at Duke, and Geri Dawson brings an enormous wealth of knowledge and experience of autism," said Victor Dzau, chancellor for health affairs and president and CEO of Duke University Health System. "Together they will explore innovative approaches to treating these challenging brain disorders. This research holds the promise of truly transformational discovery, and we are deeply grateful to the Marcus Foundation for making it possible."