Stem Cell Network Clinical Trial is Giving Preterm Babies a Fighting Chance with Life-Saving Cell Therapy

March 23, 2023 (Ottawa) – An Ottawa-based research team led by Dr. Bernard Thébaud has successfully treated its first patient in a groundbreaking clinical trial using a stem cell therapy. The patient, in this case, is a preterm baby at risk of developing a chronic lung disease called bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD). Dr. Thébaud’s clinical trial, funded by the Stem Cell Network (SCN), is a world first.

Preterm babies require supplemental oxygen and mechanical intervention to breathe, but this can damage their fragile lungs, causing BPD. With smaller and weaker lungs, and therefore a lack of oxygen during brain development, babies with BPD can develop learning disabilities or problems walking, hearing and seeing. Approximately 1,000 babies in Canada develop BPD each year, and there is no cure or treatment.

Funded by SCN since 2007, the Thébaud lab previously discovered that mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) grown from umbilical cord cells can decrease inflammation and promote lung growth, thereby preventing BPD. Since then, Dr. Thébaud and his team have been working to bring this novel therapy to babies and their families.

This SCN-funded Phase I Clinical Trial will enroll up to nine babies who are at very high risk of developing BDP and who are being cared for in the neonatal intensive care units at The Ottawa Hospital or the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. The babies will be treated with an IV infusion of umbilical cord tissue MSCs grown from donated umbilical cords of healthy newborns, manufactured with collaborators in Dresden, Germany. The goal of this Phase I trial is to determine whether the therapy is safe and feasible for premature babies, and to find the best dose for future trials.

“The Stem Cell Network is proud to continue to invest in innovative Canadian clinical trials like Dr. Thébaud’s that are moving forward cell therapies for patients. We are thrilled by the progress he and his team are making with this landmark study as this gets us one step closer to providing a game changing therapy for our most vulnerable population.”
Cate Murray, President and CEO, Stem Cell Network

“The treatment of our first preterm baby is a critical step towards a potential breakthrough therapy that could help premature babies in Canada and around the world. Our team is grateful to the Stem Cell Network for its continued funding and support in moving this trial forward.”
Dr. Bernard Thébaud, Neonatologist and Senior Scientist at The Ottawa Hospital and CHEO; Professor at the University of Ottawa; Associate Scientific Director, Stem Cell Network

Media Contact:
Samantha Rae Ayoub
Vice President, Communications & Knowledge Mobilization
Stem Cell Network