Statistically speaking, cerebral palsy is the most common motor disability in children today. Indeed, CP affects approximately 1 in 400 children in the UK, and many of these children can’t walk, feed, or dress themselves. Also, about 25% of children with CP have epileptic seizures. There is no cure for CP, although some therapies can help a person with the disorder lead a more independent life. For these reasons, scientists and researchers are hard at work studying the disorder in the hope of finding a cure. However, much of the current research is focused on understanding CP better. In that way, investigators can improve preventative measures and treatment options.
Which Research Entities are Performing the Majority of Cerebral Palsy Research?
A small handful of federally funded agencies are currently involved in most CP research in the United States. The leading agency is the National Institutes of Health (NIH), located in Bethesda, MD. They are joined by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), which focuses specifically on brain and nervous system disorders. The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) is the third and last major federally funded research organization studying CP. There the focus is on understanding why and how CP (and other disabilities) occur while a woman is pregnant. In the United Kingdom, five active CP registers comprise the UKCP, a database founded to study the disorder.
What is the Focus of Cerebral Palsy Research Today?
Scientists and researchers now know there are several causative effects of CP and have focused their research on these events, most of which occur during pregnancy. However, research has shown that CP can also occur during birth or the first few weeks of infancy. Researchers are also focused on finding better treatment methods to help children with CP lead more productive lives. For these reasons, CP research today is focused on several distinct areas.
Damage to the Brain’s White Matter
Scientists believe that damage to the brain’s white matter is the most common cause of CP. Several studies are currently being performed on mice to develop strategies that will prevent damage to white matter and thus prevent CP from occurring. Research also has found that the brain’s white matter can be damaged due to medical error during childbirth, so selecting a cerebral palsy lawyer may be necessary for parents whose child is afflicted with the condition.
Genetic Defect Screening
While less frequent than damage to the brain’s white matter, genetic defects have been identified as a leading cause of CP. Because of this, DNA samples from children affected by the condition are being collected and analyzed. DNA samples from their family members are also vital to scientific research and thus are collected concurrently. Along with gathering DNA samples, researchers are developing more sophisticated techniques for CP screening of the collected samples.
The general public is aware of Botulinum toxin A (Botox) due to its use as a wrinkle reducer for human skin, specifically the face. However, Botox has been found to help children with CP due to its ability to lower the spastic movements and muscle spasms associated with the condition. Botox works by reducing the strength and tone of the muscles. Unfortunately, while the therapy does show results, atrophied muscles and a resultant increase in fat are also seen. Also, the effects are only temporary.
Constraint-Induced Movement Therapy
One of the newest therapies developed to help children suffering from CP is constraint-induced movement therapy (CIMT). While CIMT is a rather archaic treatment, it has shown some promise. It involves casting the stronger limbs of a child afflicted with CP so that their weaker limbs work harder and eventually become stronger and less spastic. A report and study by the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (ACRM) showed limited success in children aged 4 to 14. CIMT is not as widely used in the UK as in some other countries. Many therapists contacted in a recent study responded that, while they believe it may be helpful, they lacked sufficient training in the treatment.
In the UK and other countries, there are many scientists and researchers hard at work studying cerebral palsy and searching for both prevention and cure for this all-too-common disorder. While the condition is permanent, it also changes as a child grows. This fact gives hope that, in time, therapies can be found that reduce the symptoms of CP and allow those with the disorder to live fuller lives.