Umbilical cord stem cell therapy shows promise in infant BPD

By Ingrid Grasmo, medwireNews Reporter

Researchers have successfully used human umbilical cord stem cells to partially prevent damage and restore lung structure and function in an experimental animal model of bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD).

"BPD is a lung disease described 45 years ago in which we have made zero progress. And now, with these cord-derived stem cells, there is a true potential for a major breakthrough," said lead study author Bernard Thébaud (Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, Canada) in press statement.

The findings, published in Thorax, may help advance treatment for the most common complication of extreme prematurity and for lung diseases characterized by arrested alveolar growth or loss of alveoli, Thébaud and team say.

They delivered human cord-derived perivascular cells (PCs) or cord blood-derived mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) either prophylactically or post-alveolar injury to hyperoxia-exposed newborn rats. The lung development of a newborn rat mimics that of premature baby born at 24 weeks', explain the researchers.

Rat pups exposed to hyperoxia showed typical arrested alveolar growth with air space enlargement and loss of lung capillaries. Cord blood-derived MSCs were shown to confer a protective effect on the lungs during oxygen administration when directly injected in lung tissue.

Furthermore, MSCs conferred a reparative effect when injected 2 weeks post-oxygen therapy. The researchers note that despite the observed therapeutic benefits, cell engraftment was low, "suggesting that PCs and MSCs act via a paracrine effect."

Consistent with this hypothesis, cell-free conditioned media from PCs and MSCs also exerted therapeutic benefit when used either prophylactically or therapeutically.

"The prevention approach is legitimate in BPD as one can predict which premature infants are at high risk for developing the disease," say the authors.

When the team examined the treated animals after 6 months (equivalent to 40 human years) they found improvements in exercise performance and persistent benefit in lung structure. No adverse effects were seen with the treatment.

Over concerns of cancerous growth with stem cell therapy, the researchers administered MSCs to healthy control animals not treated with oxygen. No abnormal growths were seen after 6 months.

Thébaud and team hope to undertake a pilot study with 20 human patients within the coming 2 years to test efficacy and safety, with a view to embark on a randomized controlled trial in 4 years.

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