Breakthrough may help free premature babies of lung disease

Monash researchers

Modern technology has enabled extremely premature babies to survive, but they often face a higher risk of chronic lung disease, among other conditions. Monash University researchers have recently discovered a potential way of countering this problem.

The Monash researchers, led by Associate Professor Rebecca Lim and Professor Euan Wallace AM, both of whom have joint appointments with the Hudson Institute of Medical Research, are developing a nanoparticle-based therapy that may help regenerate cells in the lungs. These cells are damaged because the babies are born before their lungs are fully developed, and due to the high levels of oxygen and steroids administered to keep them alive.

The babies are at higher risk of respiratory disease and infection, impaired brain development, learning difficulties and cerebral palsy, Professor Wallace said.

“We have some very exciting data that suggests you can use nanoparticles that are produced by cells in the body, called exosomes, to repair ongoing damage in the lungs,” Associate Professor Lim said. “This sort of treatment isn’t yet available in the world.”

The therapy would have advantages over existing cell-based treatments because it would be less expensive and, being relatively stable at room temperature, could be sent to rural communities and shipped around the world.

The nanoparticle product may also have broader application preventing other complications pre-term babies face, such as bowel and brain damage, Professor Wallace said.

“It’s got huge potential,” he said.

The researchers are seeking funding to move their experimental work towards clinical trials.

Professor Wallace heads Monash University’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, and is a Research Group Head at the Ritchie Centre, Hudson Institute. Associate Professor Lim is a Deputy Head at the Ritchie Centre, and is Theme Head, Cell Therapy and Regenerative Medicine.

The opportunity

You could help progress this exciting research into clinical trials, and help develop a nanoparticle-based therapy for treatment of lung, brain and bowel damage in premature babies. If you would like to know more, contact Megan O’Connor at