According to the March of Dimes, nearly 500,000 premature babies, or preemies, are born each year in the U.S. While advances in neonatal care have helped their chances, preemies are at an increased risk of developing health complications that can often be long term, and sometimes, fatal.
The results of a promising new phase I study, soon to be published in the Journal of Pediatrics, focuses on a common and very serious lung disease affecting preemies called bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD). Phase I studies involve evaluating safety for a small group of people receiving the potential treatment for the first time.
In the study, researchers from the Samsung Medical Center and Biomedical Research Institute in Seoul, Korea, transplanted stems cells from umbilical cord blood into nine very preterm infants (24-26 weeks gestational age) who were at high risk of developing BPD. All nine babies receiving the stem cells tolerated the procedure well without any immediate negative effects and were later released from the hospital. Only three developed moderate BPD, and none developed severe BPD. Meanwhile, 72% of a matched comparison group that did not receive the experimental treatment developed moderate or severe BPD.
Next steps are phase II trials to test this treatment on a larger group of preemies to see if it is effective, possibly leading to new therapies to prevent or cure BPD.
Here’s hoping this brings quiet sighs of relief from the littlest among us – and their parents. We’ll be watching…