Could stem cells heal premature lungs, fight infections, build muscles and strengthen bones?

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Ottawa researchers closer to finding out, thanks to $1.5 million from the Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine

Researchers from The Ottawa Hospital, CHEO and the University of Ottawa are bringing discoveries made in the lab closer to human trials and therapies, thanks to five new peer-reviewed research grants from the Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine (OIRM) worth just over $1.5 million, part of an overall investment by OIRM of $3.6 million across Ontario. The Ottawa-based grants include:

Healing damaged lungs in premature babies 

Dr. Bernard Thébaud (The Ottawa Hospital, CHEO, uOttawa) and colleagues were awarded $550,000 to conduct research necessary to prepare for a clinical trial of umbilical cord stem cell therapy for premature babies with a chronic lung disease called bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD), the most common complication of preterm birth. The lungs of these babies are not developed enough to sustain them, so they must receive oxygen through a breathing machine. However, this combination of mechanical ventilation and oxygen damages the lungs and stops their development. There is currently no treatment for BPD. To ensure the success of a clinical trial, the researchers will collect and analyze existing research about umbilical cord mesenchymal stem cells for BPD, interview parents and physicians about using stem cells in newborns, calculate whether the treatment is economically viable, and develop a protocol for a clinical trial. If this research is successful, the team hopes to launch a clinical trial in the near future. Collaborators: Dean Fergusson, Steven Seidner, Roger Soll, David Moher, Mario Ruediger, Justin Presseau, Kednapa Thavorn, Manoj Lalu.

Making new blood vessels in newborn lungs

Dr. Thébaud and colleagues were awarded a second $75,000 grant to test a different kind of umbilical cord blood cell called endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs) for high blood pressure in the lungs. In newborns this condition doubles the risk of death, and survivors have long-term health problems. Dr. Thébaud’s team was the first to show that EPCs can lower lung blood pressure in newborns and encourage the lungs to grow by making new blood vessels in animal models. This research may lead to a treatment that could benefit patients with other cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack, stroke or preeclampsia. Collaborators: Dylan Burger, Mervin Yoder

Translational research for septic shock trials

Dr. Lauralyn McIntyre (The Ottawa Hospital, uOttawa) and colleagues were awarded $750,000 to build upon the first-in-human clinical trial of mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) therapy for septic shock. This deadly condition occurs when an infection spreads through the body and over-activates the immune system, causing the heart and other organs to fail. The team will use the funding to perform the phase II randomized controlled trial of MSCs in septic shock, examine and define optimal performance characteristics of MSCs that can be used in future clinical trials, refine a process for freezing them, and find chemical signatures to identify septic shock. Collaborators: Shirley Mei, Kednapa Thavorn, Claudia dos Santos, Jason Acker, Dean Fergusson, Alies Maybee, Duncan Stewart, David Courtman, Tim Ramsay, Paul Hebert, Ian Graham, Dana Devine, Shane English, Margaret Herridge, John Granton, Sangeeta Mehta, Sylvie D’Ebagarie, Mary Ellen Harper, Anthony Gordon.

Designing a drug delivery strategy for Duchenne muscular dystrophy

Dr. Michael Rudnicki (The Ottawa Hospital, uOttawa) and his team were awarded $75,000 to develop a system to deliver a protein that encourages the expansion of muscle stem cells to all the muscles in the body. The team previously found that a protein called Wnt7a improves muscle regeneration in animal models when injected directly into the muscle. The team will develop an approach to deliver the protein through the blood system so that all muscles can be treated at the same time. This protein has the potential to become a therapy for Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a genetic muscle wasting disorder that leads to death in the second or third decade of life.

Examining stem cell therapy for osteoporosis 

Dr. William Stanford (The Ottawa Hospital, uOttawa) and colleagues were awarded $75,000 to perform an ancillary clinical trial to determine whether mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) transplanted into patients for a variety of other conditions also treat age-related osteoporosis. The team recently found that one injection of MSCs could double the rate of bone renewal and restore healthy bone architecture in animal models. To see if this treatment could prevent osteoporosis in affected patients, they will collect serum samples from an ongoing MSC trial in elderly patients, then examine whether the stem cells are causing increased bone formation. This will show whether a larger clinical trial using MSCs to prevent osteoporosis is warranted. Collaborators: Jeffrey Kiernan

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