Pre-clinical studies at the Ritchie Centre, part of the MIMR-PHI Institute of Medical Research, found that giving cord blood back to newborn animals in their first 12 hours of life, can help prevent brain damage caused by birth asphyxia.
Last week, postdoctoral scientist Courtney McDonald told the Annual Congress of the Perinatal Society of Australia and New Zealand they were now working on finding out what factors in cord blood were crucial for brain repair.
“Cord blood works, but we want to know what’s the best cord blood to give back,” Dr McDonald said.
“These particular cells can actually stop the inflammation which causes damage. They can help the baby’s own brain repair itself, and help these blood vessels become stronger.”
Cerebral palsy is the most common childhood physical disability, with about 700 Australian babies born with the movement disorder each year.
It is usually caused by oxygen deprivation around the time of birth.
Human clinical trials in South Korea found improvements in motor skills and cognitive function in children, aged between six months and 10 years, who received donated cord blood as well as other rehabilitation therapies.
The three types of stem cell being looked at by the Ritchie Centre are Mesenchymal stem cells that repair damaged nervous tissue in the brain, T-regulatory cells which have anti-inflammatory properties, and Endothelial Progenitor cells, which encourage blood flow to the injured area.
Dr McDonald said her team had taken cord blood from lambs and successfully isolated the stem cells, before injecting them back into the animals 12 hours after the injury.
The results of this study will inform a national human clinical trial, to be led by Professor Euan Wallace and Associate Professor Michael Fahey, giving cord blood to babies in the first few days after birth who are at risk of cerebral palsy.
“The results that are coming out of our studies and the clinical trials overseas are so promising. It’s going to happen. It has so much potential,” she said.