Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Umbilical Stem Cells and Regenerated Lungs

"Being first [in success with clinical trials] is always nice, but getting it right, especially for something like this that is so promising is very important."
"I would be very candid and honest [with parents], saying this is experimental and studies in the lab show promising results suggesting it protects the lungs of lab animals. And in order to get to test this in humans we need to do Phase 1, in which we would enrol patients we think would benefit."
"It is important to engage the parents. In the end, it is about their babies."
Dr. Bernard Thebaud, neonatologist, Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario
Novel research could reverse damage
Old Ottawa East resident Jamie-Lee Eberts holds her daughter, Olivia, who has been in the Ottawa Hospital General campus’ neonatal intensive care unit since her birth in January. A new stem cell treatment is in development at the hospital, which has the potential to heal the damaged lungs of premature babies, like Olivia. - Erin McCracken/Metroland

One mightn't suspect that newborns are threatened with lung disease. But babies born prematurely also have vital organs that have not had the chance to adequately mature as they normally would for babies born at full-term. Premature babies often present with bronchopulmonary dysplasia -- underdeveloped lungs, fragile and susceptible to damage from ventilation and long-term oxygen use. Dr. Thebaud and his colleagues from The Ottawa Hospital, CHEO and the University of Ottawa have developed a process that they believe will be of immense usefulness in combating this condition.

Stem cell research has driven Dr. Thebaud and his colleagues to come up with a solution to the condition plaguing newborns. The Ontario Institute of Regenerative Medicine has awarded the research team a $1.5-million grant to enable them to prepare for clinical trials of the treatment; a promising solution that Dr. Thebaud speaks of as "a breakthrough in the making". Stem cell treatment has succeeded in transforming lungs in rodents similar to those of premature infants to fully functional healthy lungs, in laboratory tests.

In this long process of scientific breakthroughs leading to new treatments for old problems requiring medical intervention, the next logical step would be to transition from animal models to human patients, babies whose immature lungs are slow to develop and remain susceptible to additional complications. The treatments currently in use to protect and aid-to-maturity babies' lungs can have serious side effects and none is capable of regenerating healthy lung tissue. So there is great hope that the stem cell treatments will do for human babies what it has done for immature rats.

The cells, emphasizes Dr. Thebaud, represent a powerful anti-inflammatory agent, and he is eager to begin trials, but he does not foresee that happening before 2019. Of vital importance is being able to persuade parents that permitting their babies to take part in the trials will be of huge benefit to them. Dr. Thebaud is prepared to work with parents to help design the research protocol. The initial phase of the clinical trial involves the injection of stem cells into ten to fifteen participating preemies (born before 28 weeks' gestation and still on ventilation).

This initial trial's purpose is to assess the safety and feasibility of the treatment. Later clinical trials following would be designed to gauge effectiveness.

Dr. Bernard Thébaud in NICU at Ottawa Hospital.
Dr. Bernard Thébaud in NICU at Ottawa Hospital. CTV News

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