Stem cell research offers new hope

STEM cell therapy is the great frontier of today’s medical research.

While still in its infancy, stem cell technology has already moved from being a promising idea to delivering life-saving treatment for conditions such as leukaemia.

Last week about 70 people gathered at the Mid City Motel, Warrnambool, to hear about the advances from one of Australia’s leading researchers.

Stem cell researcher, Professor Graham Jenkin.

Stem cell researcher, Professor Graham Jenkin.

Professor Graham Jenkin, of the department of obstetrics and gynaecology at Monash University, is researching the use of stem cells harvested from umbilical cord blood to treat babies at risk of developing cerebral palsy as the result of oxygen deprivation during birth.

The event was hosted by the Warrnambool branch of the Inner Wheel Club as part of a national fund-raising program by the organisation.

Professor Jenkin, deputy director of The Ritchie Centre, said treating infants deprived of oxygen with cord blood stem cells was showing promising results in preventing the brain damage that leads to cerebral palsy.

“We are looking at treating infants within a 24-hour window after birth,” Professor Jenkin said. “We would be aiming for treatment after about six hours if possible, which is about as soon as the stem cells can be harvested.”

Pre-clinical trials carried out on lambs have shown good results. Professor Jenkin said lambs were a good model for human infants. He said the next step was to gain permission for the first human trials.

Event organiser Carolyn Monaghan said fund-raising for stem cell research was a national project for the Inner Wheel clubs. Among the guests were Murray and Bronwyn Murfett and their son Bryn, who became a paraplegic last September as result of a motorcycle accident in Thailand.

Bryn is hoping to undergo stem cell therapy overseas within the next few months with the hope of regaining use of his legs.

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