Rats with Premature Birth-Type Brain Damage Show Neurologic Improvement After Stem Cell Transplants

Can stem cells transferred into the brains of newly-born babies with brain damage reverse brain damage? A study presented at the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine’s annual meeting in Dallas, Texas, researchers suggests that such a treatment might actually work. In this study, early transplantation of human placenta-derived mesenchymal stem cells into the lateral ventricles of neonatal rats with birth-related brain damage is feasible in this animal model. The transplanted donor cells survive and migrate within the recipient’s brain. Researchers designed this study so that the rat’s brain damage would mimic the type of brain injury observed in infants with very low birth weight.

Preterm delivery is one of the major causes of neonatal brain damage. Despite all efforts to prevent it, survivors of premature birth often suffer from some kind of injury to the brain. Survivors of preterm labor often display cognitive, behavioral, attention related and/or socialization deficits in twenty-five to fifty percent of cases; and major motor deficits in five to ten percent of cases.

Those infants with very low birth weights compose the majority of neonatal encephalopathy Such infants present with hypoxia-ischemia (low oxygen delivery to the tissues, which results in cell death and tissue damage) and inflammation. Approximately 63,000 infants are born in the United States with a very low birth weight (one to five percent of all live births). In order to understand the pathology of very premature infants, and if stem cells could ameliorate their conditions, this study, Early Intracranial Mesenchymal Stem Cell Therapy After a Perinatal Rat Brain Damage, was undertaken. This study investigated the neuroprotective effects of transplanted mesenchymal stem cells in recently born rats that had brain injuries that mimicked those found in infants with a very low birth weight.

One of the study’s authors, Martin Müller, MD, of the University of Bern, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Bern, Switzerland, said: “Stem cells are a promising source for transplant after a brain injury because they have the ability to divide throughout life and grow into any one of the body’s more than 200 cell types, which can contribute to the ability to renew and repair tissues. In our study, the donor cells survived, homed and migrated in the recipient brains and neurologic improvement was detected.”

Examination of the level of brain damaged after mesenchymal stem cell treatment indicated that stem cells exerted a neuroprotective effect on the brain. The transplanted cells survived in the brain, homed to damaged areas and migrated throughout the recipient brains. Furthermore, a combination of mesenchymal stem cells and erythropoietin (the signaling molecule made by the kidneys to signal to the bone marrow to make more red blood cells) might work even better.

While this work is still ongoing, it shows that such stem treatments are feasible and exert some positive effects.