Hudson Institute’s Dr Rebecca Lim has been awarded the inaugural Fielding Fellowship to conduct her research into stem cell-like therapy to treat lung damage in premature babies.
The Fielding Fellowship program was established in 2014 by Melbourne businessman and philanthropist Peter Fielding with a $1 million donation to the Hudson Institute.
Dr Lim is leading a team of researchers that’s pioneering a world-first treatment employing stem-cell like techniques to help repair damaged lungs in premature babies in the days after birth.
Pre-term babies are often born with immature lungs, requiring life-saving respiratory support. The side effect is that around 50 per cent will experience lung damage, for which there is no effective treatment.
This is where Dr Lim’s amnion epithelial cell treatment could have life-saving effects.
As part of the treatment, amnion epithelial cells are extracted from the amniotic membrane, which surrounds the baby during pregnancy. The cells then attach themselves to the baby’s damaged lungs, kick-starting the repair process.
Like stem cells, these cells can grow into any type of cell in the body, but because they are discarded as part of the afterbirth, they lack the same ethical dilemmas.
The treatment has already been used to successfully rebuild the damaged lungs of premature lambs which now have lung function that’s no different from a pair of healthy lungs.
Dr Lim’s team has now commenced human trials on premature babies at the Monash Children’s Hospital.
If these are successful, she hopes the technique could be used in hospitals to improve survival rates and quality of life for premature babies by reducing conditions like lung respiratory distress syndrome and bronchopulmonary dysplasia.
Mr Fielding says the five-year investment is designed to address critical funding gaps forcing early-to-mid career researchers out of medical research or to find work outside Australia.
“This is a crucial investment in the careers of emerging research talent and will enable extraordinary young researchers to build their research and apply discoveries to drive global health innovation,” said Mr Fielding.
Dr Lim has been the world’s top tanked researcher in her field of amnion cell research since 2010. She has received 17 awards for academic and research excellence and is a Chief Investigator on six NHMRC grants.
Hudson Institute communications
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