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Kiwi children with cystic fibrosis set to benefit from cord blood lung study

Three more kiwi children are set to benefit from a cord blood lung study currently underway in Melbourne.

Led by Professor Bob Williamson at the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Medicine, the study is using umbilical cord blood to treat Cystic Fibrosis an inherited disease in which a thick mucus clogs the lungs, making it very hard to breathe and digest food.

To help support this ground breaking study, CordBank has agreed to collect, process and store cord blood from families, who already have one child with CF, for free.

The latest families to benefit from this support are the Legge family from Queenstown, the Conlands from Wellington and the Hasselmans from Napier.

Bob Williamson, Professor of Medical Genetics at the University of Melbourne, has a research group trying to take cord blood stem cells and push them down the path towards lung cells.  “So far, we have been able to get cells from cord blood to make some lung proteins, such as surfactant, but the CF protein still seems to be present only at low levels.  We have, however, been able to correct gene defects in cord blood stem cells, and groups are trying to put a healthy copy of the CF gene into stem cells and get it to function normally.” 

Professor Williamson also noted that other groups, including one in Perth, Australia, have used similar cells from the placenta to repair lung injury.  “While this research is aimed at helping premature infants, rather than those with CF, it is valuable to know that stem cell science is advancing quickly towards effective treatments of many diseases.”

Professor Williamson noted that this cord blood could be very valuable in future, if a way can be found to get the stem cells to express the CF gene.  “This is a real challenge”, he said, “but there is now a great deal of stem cell science throughout the world aimed at getting this result, and progress is occurring rapidly.”

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