Nearly half a million babies in the U.S. are born premature every year (that's roughly 1 in every 8 children). Many of them require medical assistance during the first weeks of life, especially due to their under-developed lungs. Babies that are born premature are often put on breathing machines as their lungs finish maturing, but there can be negative side effects of these measures: many children (as many as 10,000) develop a condition called bronchopulmonary dysplasia, or BPD.
But research headed by Bernard Thébaud, a neonatologist and senior scientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and CHEO Research Institute, demonstrates that mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) can help repair damaged lungs in animal studies involving newborn rats, which have lungs that are roughly similar to a human fetus at 24 weeks of development.
Thébaud and his team found that injecting stem cells into the lungs of baby rats was beneficial both when done while the rats were in the process of first receiving oxygen, as well as 2 weeks and even 6 months after oxygen was provided. If these time spans are applied to the human life span, this is similar to the maturity of a middle-aged adult.
This research suggests that science may one day be able to reverse lung damage in those who were born premature, both in infants and even into adulthood.
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