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10 May 2016

Stem cell treatment offers hope of repairing brain injury in oxygen-starved newborns


A study has found that stem cells derived from bone marrow can help to treat hypoxic-ischemic  (oxygen starvation) injury in preterm babies’ brains.

An estimated 840,000 newborn infants die each year from hypoxia-ischemia making up 23 per cent of all neonatal deaths worldwide.  There are a variety of causes of hypoxia-ischemia, ranging from severe prematurity to umbilical cord accidents and lung malformation.

Hypoxia survivors generally develop other conditions

Babies who survive hypoxia-ischemia generally go on to develop conditions such as epilepsy, developmental delay or motor and cognitive issues.

To date, therapeutic cooling is the only treatment available for full-term babies born with brain damage due to blood and oxygen deprivation injuries.  There is no treatment available for pre-term babies. 

Scientists are using cells derived from bone marrow to repair brain damage

Scientists from Maastricht University Medical Center, The Netherlands, worked with colleagues at University Hospital Essen, Germany, on the study, using extracellular vesicles (EVs) fluid- filled sacs containing fats and proteins released by cells derived from bone marrow stem cells (MSCs) to repair brain damage in pre-term babies.

“EVs are known to mimic the effects of the cells they are derived from,” said lead investigators Boris W. Kramer, M.D., Ph.D., of the Maastricht University Medical Center, and Dr. Bernd Giebel from the University Hospital Essen. “Several studies in animal models have shown their beneficial effects. It is believed that the effects are due to the anti-inflammatory actions of the EVs. The aim of our study was to investigate whether MSC-EVs might help treat a brain injury in preterm babies.”

Treatment prevented functional impairment

The scientists tested their theory on animal model foetuses deprived of oxygen and blood flow for 25 minutes to induce hypoxia-ischemia before administering in utero an intravenous dose of MSC-EVs. The results showed that MSC-EV prevented functional impairment and had a tendency to protect against structural injury of the preterm brain.

“This leads us to believe that future studies to determine the optimal EV contents and dosing strategy should be performed to establish a clinically safe, cell-free therapy for preterm babies after hypoxia-ischemia,” Dr Kramer said.

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