Cell Therapy and Down Syndrome

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by Sigfried Pueschel, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H.

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Dr. Pueschel was until recently a Professor of Pediatrics at Brown University and Director of the Child Development Center at Rhode Island Hospital. The following is from his textbook Biomedical Concerns in Persons with Down Syndrome. No part of this article may be copied without permission of Brookes Publishing.
Send Me Email Sicca cell treatment, also known as cell, dry cell, or fetal cell therapy, was introduced in the 1930s. It was first used to treat children with mental retardation, including youngsters with Down syndrome, in the 1950s (1). Sicca cell treatment consists of injection of freeze-dried cells from various organs of fetal cattle and sheep. Proponents of sicca cell therapy hypothesize that the injected fetal cells migrate to corresponding target organs in the individual where the biochemical substrates and enzymes of the injected cells revitalize the target organ.
Schmid (2) reported an average height of 161 cm (63.4 in) in treated males and of 146 cm (57.4 in) in treated females compared to the height of 148 cm - 150 cm (58.3 in - 59.0 in) for untreated males and 138 cm - 140 cm (54.3 in - 55.1 in) for untreated females with Down syndrome. Head circumference measurements of males treated over a long term were between those of untreated subjects with Down syndrome and the general population. According to Schmid, sicca cell therapy started in early infancy will normalize the brain volume index to a large extent and will raise the IQ of children with Down syndrome significantly. In terms of academic achievement, Schmid concluded that with sicca cell treatment, it is definitely possible to teach the majority of children with Down syndrome to speak, read and write. The interpretation of the results of Schmid's sicca cell therapy is difficult since there is a lack of information concerning study design and specific confounding conditions that may have influenced the results. In addition, it is impossible to know whether or not the reported improvements are specific to sicca cell therapy or whether other components of Schmid's therapeutic regimen are contributing factors.

Two controlled investigations to evaluate the efficacy of sicca cell therapy were conducted independently in the 1960s. Bardon (3) studied 10 children with Down syndrome with an average chronologic age of 3.3 years and assigned them to five pairs matched for age, sex, physical development and intelligence. One child in each pair received sicca cell injections and the other did not. At the end of one year, the observers recorded an increase of intellectual function in all children, with no significant difference between the pair members. These results were confirmed during a second year of observations and assessments. Another study (4) involved 59 individuals with mental retardation, ages 5 - 25 years, 36 of whom had Down syndrome. The subjects were randomly assigned to two groups, a treatment group that received three injections of sicca cells over a period of nine months and a control group that was given placebo injections. Statistical analysis of the results indicated that there was no evidence that treated individuals benefited from sicca cell treatment, when compared to the control group.

A retrospective study (5) examined 21 American subjects who had received cell therapy abroad. Comparing the treated subjects with those in the control group matched for sex, age, socioeconomic status and cardiac history, there was no statistically significant difference for all developmental and growth variables measured.

Thus, there is no evidence that sicca cell therapy has any beneficial effect on persons with Down syndrome. However, there are several adverse potential effects, including allergic and anaphylactic reactions as well as the potential risk of slow viruses by injection of fetal animal tissues.



  1. Frohlich, C. & Prokop, O. Die Zellular-therapie. In O. Prokop (Ed.) Medizinischer Okkultismus (pp. 153-174). New York: Gustav Fischer Verlag. 1977.
  2. Schmid, F. Das Mongolismus-Syndrom. Munsterdorf, Germany: Verlag Hansen & Hansen. 1976.
  3. Bardon, L.M. Sicca cell treatment in mongolism. Lancet, ii, 234-235, 1964.
  4. Black, D.B., Kato, J.G., & Walker, G.W.H. A study of improvement in mentally retarded children accruing from sicca cell therapy. Amer. Journal of Mental Deficiency, 70:499-508. 1966.
  5. Van Dyke, D.C., et al. Cell therapy in children with Down syndrome. Pediatrics, 85: 79-84. 1990.

Above reprinted from Biomedical Concerns in Persons with Down Syndrome, by S.M. Pueschel and J.K. Pueschel, Paul Brookes Publishing Co., 1992, ISBN 1-55766-089-1.

Some additional notes:

The "slow viruses" Dr. Pueschel refers to are the infectious particles that cause such brain diseases as kuru and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Since this book was written, research has shown these infectious particles to be something actually smaller than viruses, called "prions." Prions are the agents seemingly responsible for "mad cow disease." It is presumed that these prions can infect people from tainted animal products that are eaten or injected.

An additional study on this topic was missed by Dr. Pueschel's review: In 1987, P.J. Foreman PJ and J. Ward published a study entitled "An evaluation of cell therapy in Down syndrome." [Aust. Paed. J. 23:151-156] Just as in Van Dyke's study, this was a comparison of children with DS who had received cell therapy with a matched set of children with DS who were untreated. The study looked at developmental quotients, height, weight, head circumference, facial appearance, hair quality, and skin quality. The only statistically significant difference was the treated children had a better hair "force" quality.

This cell therapy is currently illegal in the USA.

--Len Leshin, M.D., F.A.A.P.

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