Researchers at Imperial College London have found that injections of stem cells during the gestation period may help prolong the lives of children with brittle bone disease, osteogenesis imperfecta (OI).
The genetic defect, detected in human foetuses by DNA testing or ultrasound, disrupts collagen production, leading to weak bones and stunted growth. Those with the condition suffer fractures while in the womb, and rarely survive beyond early adulthood.
Led by Nicholas Fisk of the college, the researchers studied mouse models of human type III osteogenesis imperfecta. They injected human foetal mesenchymal stem cells through the wall of the uterus into 14-day mouse foetuses.
It was found that at the age of 3 months, mice treated with stem cells had suffered just one-third of the long-bone fractures, as compared to their untreated counterparts. The experimental mice also had stronger bones and longer leg bones than the control subjects.
A report published in New Scientist magazine says that the treatment has already been tried in the US on three children with OI whilst still in the womb, with promising early results seen after the babies were born.
Fisk believes that though drugs exist to treat the disease, stem cell transplants may offer extra benefits.
The researcher, who presented the study at the annual meeting of the International Society for Stem Cell Research in Cairns, Australia, stresses that need for offering the treatment on a case-by-case basis.
However, other experts are of the opinion that clinical trials must be conducted before the treatment is offered to the public.