A team of researchers from the Hudson Institute have managed to demonstrate that umbilical cord stem cells can protect preterm babies from brain injury. This breakthrough confirms the neuroprotective capacity of stem cells.
Each year, many babies are born suffering from fetal growth restriction (FGR). FGR occurs when a foetus which has not reached its growth potential in relation to its gestational age.
Babies suffering from FGR sometimes have to be placed on mechanical ventilation because their lungs are too undeveloped to breathe unassisted. Unfortunately, this can have a negative impact on their early brain development and can cause brain injuries.
FGR also increases the risk of babies being born prematurely. Premature babies have an even higher risk of suffering a brain injury.
Brain injuries can cause long-term developmental problems in babies. They also increase the risk of cognitive defects, cerebral palsy, and other developmental problems.
How Stem Cell Therapy Can Help
There is a growing body of research which suggests that stem cells may be able to protect the developing brains of newborns. The most recent evidence comes from a study led by Dr Atul Malhotra and Associate Professor Suzie Miller, which was recently published in the journal Stem Cell Research and Therapy.
The study looked at the effect of umbilical cord blood stem cells (UCBCs) in a preclinical model of FGR. The researchers discovered that UCBCs can reduce the amount of brain damage caused by FGR — a finding which may help researchers develop new treatments in the future.
It was found that UCBCs decreased factors responsible for brain damage, including neuroinflammation, oxidative stress, and cerebrovascular resistance (blood flow obstruction). Stem cells can also improve the integrity of the neurovascular unit in the brain.
Dr Malhotra explained the significance of the findings, saying “We propose that the results of this study lay the foundation for a novel therapeutic option, using cord blood stem cells as an early intervention therapy for these vulnerable babies. Cell therapy is now ready for translation to clinical trials and this study provides further evidence of its potential benefit in preterm infants.”
The next step will be additional clinical trials on preterm babies at Monash Hospital, in Victoria, Australia.