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Funding for New Stem Cell Research Provides Hope for Premature Born Babies

Researchers from Australia and Europe collaborate to develop new therapy that aims to leverage on stem cells for regenerating the brain damage caused by premature birth.

Starting in January 2020, the European research project, PREMSTEM, has received €9 million in funding form the European Union’s prestigious Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation programme. Professor Pierre Gressens, PREMSTEM Project Coordinator, shared that the five-year project will see a therapy ready for clinical trials to test treatment of brain injury in premature born infants. The brain damage caused by premature birth is known as encephalopathy of prematurity (EOP).

“We’ll be examining the best regiment, timing, dose and administration route for H-MSC as therapy for this specific type of brain injury,” Gressens said.

“We’ll also develop new, inexpensive and easy-to-use imaging tools that will give clinicians, for the first time, the ability to readily identify premature born babies needing our treatment – those that have encephalopathy of prematurity.”

Once the research is complete, Gressens said the therapy will have an even broader application.

“We anticipate that we’ll be able to extend to other types of perinatal brain injury and disorders such as paediatric multiple sclerosis,” he said.

More than 15 million babies are born preterm every year – before 37 weeks of a typical 40-week pregnancy – and are at risk of long-term disability due to brain damage.

The last weeks of pregnancy are a time of astounding growth and change for an unborn baby’s brain – often referred to as the ‘big bang’ during neonatal development.

Disturbances in the brain’s growth, such as through premature birth, can result in cerebral palsy, severely impaired cognitive functions and disorders such as attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The academic and industry partners are the Institut National De La Santé et de La Recherche Médicale (Inserm) (France), Inserm Transfert (France), Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) University (Australia), RMIT Europe (Spain), Universitair Medisch Centrum Utrecht (Netherlands), Universiteit Maastricht (Netherlands), Stichting Katholieke Universiteit (Netherlands), Universitaetsklinikum Essen (Germany), Goteborg Universitet (Sweden), Consiglio Nazionale Delle Ricerche (Italy), Universite De Geneve (Switzerland), Iconeus (France) and CHIESI Farmaceutici SPA (Italy).

Two major advocacy groups supporting premature born infants and their families are also central to the project – The European Foundation for the Care of Newborn Infants (EFCNI) (Germany) as well as the Cerebral Palsy Alliance (Australia). [APBN]