Stem cells help newborn rats survive sepsis

May 25, 2017

Dr. Bernard Thébaud and his team have shown for the first time that stem cells taken from human umbilical cords can help newborn rats survive sepsis. This condition kills half a million babies worldwide every year, and occurs when the immune system overreacts to an infection and attacks the organs.

“Caring for a newborn with severe sepsis is heartbreaking,” said Dr. Thébaud, neonatologist and senior scientist at The Ottawa Hospital and CHEO, and professor at the University of Ottawa. “Current treatments are limited, and antibiotic resistance makes it even more difficult to treat. These babies desperately need new therapies, and that’s where stem cells might help.”

When Dr. Thébaud’s team used mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) to treat newborn rats with sepsis, 80 percent of the rats survived, compared to 50 percent in the control group. The treatment also reduced the number of harmful bacteria living in the rats.

The study was published in Stem Cells and Development.

Dr. Thebaud and his team recently received funding to conduct research necessary to prepare for the first clinical trial of MSCs in newborns. While this trial will focus on healing a certain kind of lung damage, the findings may also be applicable to sepsis and other complications.

Co-authors: Zhu, Yueniu; Xu, Liqun; Collins, Jennifer; Vadivel, Arul; Cyr-Depauw, Chanèle; Zhong, Shumei; Mense, Lars; A Möbius, Marius; Thébaud, Bernard

Funders: Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Canadian Thoracic Society, Stem Cell Network, Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario Foundation, The Ottawa Hospital Foundation, Shanghai Municipal Education Commission

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