Stem cells show promise in healing newborns’ lungs

Friday, November 27, 2009

TORONTO - Stem cells can protect and repair the lungs of newborns, says a study that conducted clinical trials in rats.

“The really exciting thing that we discovered was that stem cells are like little factories, pumping out healing factors,” says Bernard Thbaud, an Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research Clinical Scholar, who led the research.

“That healing liquid seems to boost the power of the healthy lung cells and helps them to repair the lungs,” he added.

“The dilemma we face with these tiny babies is a serious one. When they are born too early, they simply cannot breathe on their own,” says Thebaud.

“To save the babies’ lives, we put them on a ventilator and give them oxygen, leaving many of them with chronic lung disease,” says Thbaud. “Before the next decade is out I want to put a stop to this devastating disease.”

Thbaud’s team simulated the conditions of prematurity — giving the newborn rats oxygen. The scientists then took stem cells, derived from bone marrow, and injected them into the rats’ airways.

Two weeks later, the rats treated with stem cells were able to run twice as far, and had better survival rates. When Thbaud’s team looked at the lungs, they found the stem cells had repaired the lungs, and prevented further damage.

“This research offers real hope for a new treatment for babies with chronic lung disease,” says Roberta Ballard, professor of paediatrics, University of California, San Francisco.

“In a few short years, I anticipate we will be able to take these findings and begin clinical trials with premature babies,” Thbaud was quoted as saying in an Alberta Foundation release.

The team is now investigating the long-term safety of using stem cells as a lung therapy.

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