June 18, 2014

A baby born at less than 37 week gestation is considered a pre-term baby. In 2012, 12 percent of all births in the United States were considered pre-term or premature, or taking place before 37 weeks gestation or sooner. The earlier a baby is born the more likely he or she will develop severe health complications. Some possible medical issues a pre-term baby could face include Intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, visual problems including retinopathy of prematurity, hearing loss, and feeding and digestive problems.

One of the most severe and difficult challenges in pre-term babies, however, is bronchopulmonary dysplasia, or BPD. BPD is also referred to as chronic lung disease. A baby is not born with BPD, rather he or she develops the disease following premature birth because the lungs are underdeveloped. It is a serious medical condition causing inflammation and scarring of the lung tissue. It often requires intensive and immediate medical treatment once it progresses. Between 5,000 and 10,000 cases of BPD occur every year in the United States, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Currently, medication with steroid, diuretic and respiratory drugs are used to treat BPD in infants, however, there is no cure. There is promising research that utilizes cord blood stem cells to help babies combat this very serious condition though.

Researchers have successfully transplanted umbilical cord blood cells into an infant to treat BPD1 . The dose-escalation study treated nine “very pre-term” (fetal gestational age ranged from 23 weeks to 29 weeks) babies, who were all less than 14 days old and who had a high risk of developing BPD, with a single dose of cord blood stem cells. Three of the infants received a low dose of stem cells and six received a high dose. Of the nine infants, only three developed moderate BPD and none developed severe BPD. In a control group of 18 infants who did not receive a stem cell transplant, 13 developed moderate or severe BPD.

This successful phase I trial will now make way for further extensive research and clinical trials where additional dosing, timing, effectiveness, and long-term safety of the cord blood stem cell treatments can be studied. Phase II results are scheduled to be reported in 2016.

1. Chang YS, Ahn SY, Yoo HS, Sung SI, Choi SJ, Oh WI, Park WS. Mesenchymal stem cells for bronchopulmonary dysplasia: phase 1 dose-escalation clinical trial. J Pediatr. 2014 May;164(5):966- 972.e6. doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2013.12.011. Epub 2014 Feb 6.

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