Early intervention treatment for cerebral palsy shows promise despite sex differences

By Rob Clancy, staff writer

A promising early intervention treatment for cerebral palsy in newborn babies has proven effective in both boys and girls – even though it works differently depending on the sex of the offspring.

Dr Tayla Penny's study has shown  an early intervention treatment for cerebral palsy in newborns has proven effective, but works differently in males and females.
Dr Tayla Penny

When babies are deprived of oxygen during pregnancy or birth it can cause long-term motor impairment and poor neurological outcomes, leading to conditions such as cerebral palsy.

This study investigated the effectiveness of umbilical cord blood (UCB) stem cells as a potential early intervention therapy for perinatal brain injuries caused by lack of oxygen.

Differences between sexes

The team, led by Dr Tayla Penny at Hudson Institute of Medical Research, demonstrated that UCB cell therapy improved outcomes in both males and females, and showed for the first time that there may be differences between sexes in the way the cells reduce injury.

“Males are more susceptible to perinatal brain injury, and account for up to 58 per cent of cerebral palsy cases in Australia,” Dr Penny said.

“Due to this, it is important that the effectiveness of novel treatments for cerebral palsy are tested in both males and females and any differences are characterised.”

Improved treatment in males and females

“In this study we found that UCB cell therapy improved outcomes in both males and females, however there appear to be differences in the way that the cells reduce brain injury between sexes.

“The results of this study will provide confidence that umbilical cord blood cell therapy is an appropriate treatment for both males and females as we move forward with clinical translation,” Dr Penny said.


  • Perinatal brain injury occurs due to an adverse event during pregnancy or birth and can lead to a number of neurological conditions, including the motor deficit cerebral palsy.
  • In Australia, there are about 34,000 people with cerebral palsy.
  • Globally, this number reaches 17 million.
  • Every 15 hours, an infant in Australia is born with a brain injury that underlines cerebral palsy, making it the most prevalent congenital neurological disorder in our population.
  • Cerebral palsy costs Australia more than $1.5 billion per annum.

Funder | Inner Wheel Australia

Collaborators | Monash University, Clayton, Victoria, Australia

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