Infusion of human umbilical cord tissue mesenchymal stromal cells in children with autism spectrum disorder.


Ongoing neuroinflammation may contribute to symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in at least a portion of affected individuals. Mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) have demonstrated the capacity to modulate neuroinflammation, but safety and feasibility of MSC administration in children with ASD have not been well established. In this open-label, phase I study, 12 children with ASD between 4 and 9 years of age were treated with intravenous (IV) infusions of human cord tissue mesenchymal stromal cells (hCT-MSCs), a third-party MSC product manufactured from unrelated donor umbilical cord tissue. Children received one, two, or three doses of 2 × 106 cells per kilogram at 2-month intervals. Clinical and laboratory evaluations were performed in person at baseline and 6 months and remotely at 12 months after the final infusion. Aside from agitation during the IV placement and infusion in some participants, hCT-MSCs were well tolerated. Five participants developed new class I anti-human leukocyte antigen (HLA) antibodies, associated with a specific lot of hCT-MSCs or with a partial HLA match between donor and recipient. These antibodies were clinically silent and not associated with any clinical manifestations to date. Six of 12 participants demonstrated improvement in at least two ASD-specific measures. Manufacturing and administration of hCT-MSCs appear to be safe and feasible in young children with ASD. Efficacy will be evaluated in a subsequent phase II randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial.





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Publication Info

Sun, Jessica M, Geraldine Dawson, Lauren Franz, Jill Howard, Colleen McLaughlin, Bethany Kistler, Barbara Waters-Pick, Norin Meadows, et al. (2020). Infusion of human umbilical cord tissue mesenchymal stromal cells in children with autism spectrum disorder. Stem cells translational medicine, 9(10). pp. 1137–1146. 10.1002/sctm.19-0434 Retrieved from

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Jessica Muller Sun

Associate Professor of Pediatrics

Lauren Franz

Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

Dr Franz's research focuses on improving access to evidence-based services and support for neurodevelopmental disabilities, including autism, in diverse, low-resource, local and global communities.


Jill E. Howard

Assistant Professor in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

Autism spectrum disorder diagnosis and treatment, infant-toddler risk and diagnosis, trajectories of early development

Colleen A McLaughlin

Clinical Associate in the School of Nursing

Jesse David Troy

Associate Professor of Biostatistics & Bioinformatics

I am the Associate Director of Graduate Studies for the Master of Biostatistics program. I am also an instructor in the Clinical Research Training Program. I work on research studies in cancer therapeutics and palliative care at the Duke Cancer Institute.


Joanne Kurtzberg

Jerome S. Harris Distinguished Professor of Pediatrics

Dr. Kurtzberg is an internationally renowned expert in pediatric hematology/oncology, pediatric blood and marrow transplantation, umbilical cord blood banking and transplantation, and novel applications of cord blood and birthing tissues in the emerging fields of cellular therapies and regenerative medicine.   Dr. Kurtzberg serves as the Director of the Marcus Center for Cellular Cures (MC3), Director of the Pediatric Transplant and Cellular Therapy Program, Director of the Carolinas Cord Blood Bank, and Co-Director of the Stem Cell Transplant Laboratory at Duke University.  The Carolinas Cord Blood Bank is an FDA licensed public cord blood bank distributing unrelated cord blood units for donors for hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) through the CW Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program.  The Robertson GMP Cell Manufacturing Laboratory supports manufacturing of RETHYMIC (BLA, Enzyvant, 2021), allogeneic cord tissue derived and bone marrow derived mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs), and DUOC, a microglial/macrophage cell derived from cord blood.

Dr. Kurtzberg’s research in MC3 focuses on translational studies from bench to bedside, seeking to develop transformative clinical therapies using cells, tissues, molecules, genes, and biomaterials to treat diseases and injuries that currently lack effective treatments. Recent areas of investigation in MC3 include clinical trials investigating the safety and efficacy of autologous and allogeneic cord blood in children with neonatal brain injury – hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), cerebral palsy (CP), and autism. Clinical trials testing allogeneic cord blood are also being conducted in adults with acute ischemic stroke. Clinical trials optimizing manufacturing and testing the safety and efficacy of cord tissue MSCs in children with autism, CP and HIE and adults with COVID-lung disease are underway. DUOC, given intrathecally, is under study in children with leukodystrophies and adults with primary progressive multiple sclerosis.

In the past, Dr. Kurtzberg has developed novel chemotherapeutic drugs for acute leukemias, assays enumerating ALDH bright cells to predict cord blood unit potency, methods of cord blood expansion, potency assays for targeted cell and tissue based therapies. Dr. Kurtzberg currently holds several INDs for investigational clinical trials from the FDA.  She has also trained numerous medical students, residents, clinical and post-doctoral fellows over the course of her career.

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