THE damaged lungs of premature babies could be repaired in the days after their birth using a stem-cell-like treatment pioneered at Melbourne’s Monash Institute of Medical Research.
The world-first research will be tested on 10 premature babies in Malaysian hospitals starting in the next three months.
If successful, wider trials are planned in Australia at Monash Children’s Hospital and overseas to find out if introducing cells harvested from a baby’s amniotic membrane could save dangerously premature babies suffering severe and life-long lung conditions.
Investigations are also being considered to determine if the breakthrough process can be used to treat other conditions arising from premature birth, including brain damage.
The experimental amnion epithelial cells treatment has already been able to build the lungs of premature lambs in the Monash laboratory over the past six years, but Dr Rebecca Lim said human trials offered a real hope to the families of the most fragile infants.
“They (amniotic cells) have turned (into) every cell we have asked them to turn into; they have turned into lung, pancreas, liver, brain muscle, fat cartilage, bone – just about everything that traditional stem cells do,” Dr Lim said.
“The practical use of these cells is that if there is a baby the obstetrician knows is at risk, they would inform the stem-cell bank and we would have a vial of cells ready. We would pull the stem cells out and thaw them, then as the baby is delivered and intubated for the first time, we would deliver the cells.”
Seeing her tiny son, Blake, battle for breath on machines at Monash Children’s after being born at just 29 weeks, Jessica Yolland knows just how important the trial may prove.
“Just seeing other mothers constantly coming back in here (with children suffering ongoing lung conditions) … it is a little scary, but he is doing really well,” she said. “It is amazing what they have found so far.”
Hygieia Innovations, a Malaysian biotech company, is backing the trial, which will be conducted in top-tier private hospitals in Malaysia, with preliminary results expected by the end of the year.
The most recent of six studies of the therapy completed in Melbourne in January showed amniotic cells administered intravenously and through ventilation were able to completely repair the lungs of lambs born prematurely at 117 days’ gestation, which have the same lung capacity as a baby born at 23 weeks.
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Source: Herald Sun