Stem cell hope
Monash Children’s Hospital patients suffering from the stomach disease, necrotising enterocolitis could soon have a cure.
Melbourne researchers are growing mini human bowels to test a promising stem cell treatment they hope could prevent a deadly stomach disease in premature babies.
If successful, the Monash University experiments could see babies with immature organs treated with stem cells.
Up to 8 per cent of premature babies in neonatal Intensive Care Units develop necrotising enterocolitis, in which part of the intestine dies and must be removed, causing continuing health problems.
Daisy Jones, born three months ago at 25 weeks and six days gestation, is in our Monash Neonatal Intensive Care Unit after developing NEC and having 30cm of her bowel removed.
Now three times her 638g birth weight, she is due to have her stomach reconnected to her bowel next week, mum Lucy McGee-Stebbing said.
“You want to prevent anything like this from happening,” she said.
The Hudson Institute of Medical Research’s Professor Euan Wallace, who is leading the research project, said NEC might be triggered by inflammation caused by stress on preterm babies’ underdeveloped digestive systems.
“We think the bowel’s own stem cells just get exhausted from the constant injury of being fed much earlier than normal, and they can’t repair themselves anymore,” Prof Wallace said.
The team’s preclinical studies have shown that amnion cells taken from the placenta can support the bowel’s own stem cells to repair itself.
If the team is able to grow and then treat “mini bowels” with stem cells, they would then test whether breast milk, which contains stem cells, could be given to protect and repair the bowel, he said.