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Duke awarded $15M for autism, brain disorder treatments

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Duke Medicine has been awarded $15 million to explore the use of umbilical cord blood cells to treat autism and other brain-related disorders.

The Marcus Foundation, an Atlanta-based philanthropic organization, will fund the first two years of a planned five-year, $41 million project by Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg, chief scientific and medical officer of Duke's Robertson Cell and Translational Therapy Program, and Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D., director of the Duke Center for Autism Diagnosis and Treatment, according to a release issued by Duke Medicine.

Kurtzberg and Dawson hypothesize that cord blood may promote repair of dysfunctional or damaged areas of the brain.

"I am excited about this unprecedented opportunity," said Dr. Victor Dzau, President and CEO of Duke University Health System. "Joanne Kurtzberg has done groundbreaking work on cord blood transplantation at Duke, and Geri Dawson brings an enormous wealth of knowledge and experience of autism," Dzau added.

Kurtzberg and Dawson hope to develop cell-based therapies that can potentially restore brain function in people with the disorders, according to the release. If successful, the study could identify therapies for further evaluation in clinical trials to potentially decrease disabilities.

About 2 million people in the United States suffer from an autism spectrum disorder.

Kurtzberg and Dawson will also explore using umbilical cord blood cells to treat stroke and cerebral palsy.

Strokes kill an average of nearly 130,000 in the U.S. every year, while cerebral palsy currently affects an estimated 764,000 children and young adults.

Families interested in enrolling a child in the study should contact Duke at cordbloodtherapyinfo@dm.duke.edu or (844) 800-CORD or (844) 800-2673.

Copyright 2014 WNCN. All rights reserved.

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