A small, but promising study suggests that stem cells from a child’s own cord blood may offer an effective treatment for autism symptoms.

Most children on the spectrum who received an infusion from their own umbilical cord blood showed improvements in behavior, communication and socialization, among other measures, while experiencing no significant downsides from the treatment.

The findings come from a study of 25 kids with autism ages 2 to 5 published Wednesday in the journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine.

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All of the children who participated in the research had their cord blood banked at birth. For the trial, the kids were given a series of behavioral and functional assessments before receiving a one-time cord blood infusion. Follow-up assessments were conducted at six and 12 months after the infusion.

Not only did the researchers find that the treatment was safe, but parent reports as well as clinical assessments indicated that more than two-thirds of the children saw improvements in autism symptoms.

Most of the behavioral gains were seen in the first six months after the infusion, the study found, but they were sustained over the following six months.

“We are pleased that this study demonstrated the safety of treating children with ASD with their own cord blood,” said Joanne Kurtzberg, a pediatric bone marrow transplant specialist at Duke Health who worked on the study. “We’re also encouraged that, while small and non-randomized, there were observed improvements in a majority of the children reported by clinicians and parents.”

While the findings are encouraging, researchers said that further study involving more participants is needed before any firm conclusions can be reached about the effectiveness of cord blood infusions.

“We are now hoping to replicate these preliminary results in a Phase II randomized clinical trial for which enrollment is nearly complete,” Kurtzberg said.

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