Dubai-based mother clings to stem cell hope for autistic son's treatment

Despite the odds, Jaya, who works as an administrative executive, did not give up her son’s treatment.
Despite the odds, Jaya, who works as an administrative executive, did not give up her son's treatment.

Dubai - The Sri Lankan national moved to Dubai in 2014 soon after her marriage but, within months, her relationship ended.



By Asma Ali Zain

Published: Mon 10 Dec 2018, 7:00 PM

Last updated: Tue 11 Dec 2018, 2:02 PM

Single and with a severely autistic child, Rajini Jayathilaka is one woman who doesn't believe in giving up.
The Sri Lankan national moved to Dubai in 2014 soon after her marriage but, within months, her relationship ended.
"I was six months pregnant when my husband left me," Jaya told Khaleej Times. "The relationship was abusive. In a way, it was good that it ended but I was pregnant," she said.
When she gave birth to her baby, she noticed that a lot of things in her son's development didn't seem normal. A battery of tests in July 2016 showed that Javindu Jayathilaka, now four years old, suffered from a severe form of autism.
"My husband had left for Poland during the divorce and custody proceedings. He was due to pay me child support amounting to Dh300,000 but he never did," she said.
Despite the odds, Jaya, who works as an administrative executive, did not give up her son's treatment.
As Javindu grew up, his physical traits and behaviour became more evident. "He was withdrawn, angry and at times violent," said Jaya. "I have had to change a number of nannies because they could not handle my son.
"I am already marked at work for taking urgent leaves and leaving the office early to attend to my son's emergencies," she said.
Jaya had enrolled him at Physio Rehab Medical Centre for a short period as well as at Able UK Medical Centre in the DHCC and Dubai Hospital.
"Finally, I got my son enrolled at the Dubai Autism Centre last November, but autism treatment is not covered by insurance," she said.
Jaya shells out Dh60,000 per year for her son's treatment.
Hope springs
"Many doctors have told me that he will improve with therapies but can never be normal," she said.
"But I have researched and found that stem cell therapy can change the life of autistic children."
She got in touch with people from the National Institute of Stem Cell Research in the US and they have agreed to treat her son in Mexico. "Stem cell treatment is not legal in the US for those under 18, so the treatment will be done in Mexico," she said. Bone marrow will be withdrawn from Javindu's hip. Stem cells will be extracted from it and injected into the child's spine.
The cells will then grow and restore the damaged and missing cells and tissues in the brain. 
The procedure will cost $25,000 (Dh91,825) and Jaya will fly with Javindu on January 2.
"I want my son to go through the stem cell treatment and recover from his condition so he can behave like a normal child as I want him to attend a normal school. This is the only opportunity to treat my son and provide him with a good future," she said.
Though Jaya does not know how she will raise the funds for the treatment, she is determined. "Just two weeks ago, he called me 'mummy' for the first time," said a visibly happy Jaya.
"I have a lot of hope that he will be like any other normal child soon."
Therapy is still in the early stages
Currently, there are no stem cell therapies for treating autism, approved by Health Canada or US FDA.
Many of the claims to offer treatment for autism through stem cells are not supported by sound scientific evidence.
At present, the field isn't ready to use stem cells as a source of neurons for transplantation into patients with autism. Instead, stem cells are being used to create models of autism for the purpose of testing the effects of possible new drugs. Scientists are also investigating how the immune system and inflammation are involved in the development of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and whether stem cells could help play a role by dampening the immune system in patients.
However, a stem cell treatment done last year shows promise, according to a new study, but the investigators and other experts emphasise that the therapy is still in the early stages and much more research is needed.
asmaalizain@khaleejtimes.com


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