Vinmec, a healthcare facility in Vietnam made bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD) history. They successfully treated BDP using a method that had never been tried before: the stem cell transplant. The procedure occurred September of 2016, although the study only recently appeared in American Journal of Case Reports.
BPD is a rare lung conditions that occurs in newborns. Premature infants born 10 weeks early have an especially high risk. It arises as a complication after an infant has been put on an assisted breathing ventilators. Since the newborns lungs aren’t completely developed, they can’t handle the large amounts of oxygen they’re exposed to.
This causes frightening respiratory issues, generally the same as the ones seen in Respiratory Distress Syndrome. This includes strained breathing, grunting, and a blue color. Babies suffering from BPD can recover, and many go on to live healthy lives, unaffected by the condition. Others will have chronic respiratory issues many years later. To learn more about this rare condition, click here.
The case study child was born 8 weeks early, at 3.3 pounds. He entered hospital care in May 2016. The extended use of the breathing ventilator had caused persistent infections, which didn’t respond to treatment. His pulmonary arterial pressure kept increasing, and the medical team was worried, that without a new form of intervention, this would be a fatal case of BPD.
The newborn was in the ICU before doctors performed the stem cell transplant. They used mononuclear cells from bone marrow to treat the sick infant. Soon after, his breathing returned to normal. The infant is now nearly 2 years old. He’s growing and developing just as he’s expected to, on par with his baby peers.
His doctor, Dr. Liem, explained that stem cell transplants are effective, yet overlooked. The prevent and minimize lung fibrosis, while still having the ability to develop into new, normal alveoli– overall benefitting the whole structure of the lung. It might not be a widely practiced strategy, but it saved this newborn’s life.
This accomplishment indicates a fundamental shift in the way the medical community is thinking about premature infant care. In Vietnam alone, 100,000 premature babies need care. A significant number of these babies are at risk for infant mortality; the earlier the birth, the harsher the odds. Even once they’re home, their risk for a complicated pneumonia shoots up. The success of this treatment is strongly affirming for a new way of thinking about newborn care. Since the case was published in a prestigious US journal, its reputation in Vietnam is even more pronounced.
It wasn’t random chance that this cutting edge study came out of Vinmec specifically. They have long held an interest in stem cell research, emerging as an industry leader over the last several years. They’ve used it to treat patients with spinal cord injuries, myocardial infarction, knee degeneration, cirrhosis, and even, surprisingly, autism and diabetes. They’ve found generally positive results.