Research Profile – Dr. Bernard Thebaud

Working as a neonatologist, Dr. Bernard Thebaud from the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute has spent a great deal of time helping families whose babies are sick, often gravely ill. During his career, he learned that lung development can often make all the difference in whether a premature baby survives. Inspired by this, he started looking at ways to improve lung development in newborns through his research into stem cells.

A clinician scientist, Thebaud spends part of his time working with patients and the rest doing research. This balance allows him to take what he sees in the clinic into the projects he works on in the lab. “What I like about the science aspect is that it allows me to answer questions that we couldn’t answer at the bedside,” he explains. “Often we’re limited by our current therapies and the science gives you the possibility of exploring new therapies. Every time I do my clinical work, I can see where our limitations still are, despite the progress we have already made, and that inspires me to do the research in the lab to bring innovative solutions to the bedside.”

Stem cell research has given Thebaud a new perspective on the possibilities for treatment in diseases in babies. His OIRM-funded disease team is looking at ways to use mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) in therapies that would regenerate the lungs of premature infants. The research thus far has been very promising and his team expects to move into clinical trials within a few years. OIRM funding has been crucial to getting this far.

“We’re right at the verge of bringing what we find in the lab into patients,” he says, “Because there’s a grey zone where it’s very difficult to get the funding when we have a promising cell product that we want to get to clinical trials and OIRM has really bridged a gap there and met an unmet need. We hope that in the next three years, we will be able to show that this was good return on investment by initiating a first-in-human trial in babies to protect their lungs.”

With progress moving quickly forward, Thebaud is hopeful he will soon be able to see the results of his research in the patients he serves. And he is grateful for the opportunity to pursue this work. “Without exaggeration, OIRM has really opened complete new dimension to our efforts to translate our discovery in the lab into therapies in the clinic,” he says. “The OIRM funding so far was crucial to get to that critical step.”

Article by Krista Lamb