Could stem
cells repair
brain injuries
in babies?

Ground-breaking research could see babies treated with placental stem cells to heal brain impairment caused by extreme prematurity or interruption to oxygen supply.

Researchers at UQ’s Centre for Clinical Research hope the approach will allow a rapid response to perinatal brain injuries with life-changing results.

Their hope is that those babies born extremely prematurely, and those who suffer hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy, could survive without brain impairment.

So, by the time these children reach school age, they would potentially have the same brain function as a child born at full term or without brain injury.

Professor Paul Colditz, director of the Perinatal Research Centre, says early research is delivering positive results.

“We’ve looked at stem cells in animal models and we’ve had encouraging results from the preliminary data, which show the stem cells permeating the brain.

“The placental stem cells are administered intravenously in preclinical models, and we’ve been able to show that they travel through the bloodstream to injured regions of the brain. They can then engraft into the brain with no apparent adverse side effects.”

Professor Colditz says the potential advantages of this type of stem cell treatment are threefold: early intervention; a high dose of stem cells; and using cells from the baby’s own supply, in the placenta.

This work by the Perinatal Research Centre has been underpinned by a technique developed by another UQ Faculty of Medicine team.

Associate Professor Kiarash Khosrotehrani and postdoctoral researcher Dr Jatin Patel were able to isolate and harvest large quantities of stem cells from the placenta.

These could then be used to create blood vessels in areas of the body lacking blood flow.

This method could now provide the key to unlocking new treatment for perinatal brain injury.

Professor Colditz says placental stem cells are more beneficial than those from the umbilical cord because of their high dose and ability to secrete pro-growth repair factors within the brain.

“The stem cells congregate around the injured parts, pump out these ‘good guys’ and the brain gets on with repairing itself."

UQ Medicine’s placental stem cell research has the potential to save millions of dollars in healthcare costs, while transforming treatment and health outcomes for our tiniest patients.

This story is featured in the Summer 2017 edition of UQMedicine Magazine. View the latest edition here. Or to listen, watch, or read more stories from UQ’s Faculty of Medicine visit our content hub, MayneStream.