Researchers are set to begin the first federally-approved clinical trial on the effectiveness of stem cells from stored umbilical cords in treating symptoms of cerebral palsy.

In select cases, doctors are already using stem cells from umbilical cord blood to improve mobility in children with cerebral palsy, which has shown success anecdotally. But the research set to be conducted at the Medical College of Georgia will be the first clinical trial approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

The study will focus on 40 children with cerebral palsy ages 2 to 12 whose umbilical cords were stored at an Arizona stem cell bank at birth. Half of the study participants will be infused with stem cells from their own umbilical cord and half will receive a placebo.

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Scientists believe that stem cells can help repair injured brain cells and replace dead cells.

Doctors will examine the children three months into the study, when significant improvement is expected. At that point, patients who received the placebo will be infused with stem cells.

Then at the six and nine month marks, doctors will reexamine all of the patients as well.

“Evidence up to this point has been purely anecdotal,” said Dr. James Carroll, chief of pediatric neurology at the Medical College of Georgia and principal investigator on the study. “While a variety of cord blood stem cell therapies have been used successfully for more than 20 years, this study is breaking new ground in advancing therapies for brain injury.”

Though the stem cells show promise, researchers say they do not expect the treatment to serve as a cure for cerebral palsy.