Fifty per cent of extremely preterm babies have a developmental delay at school. My research is developing novel stem cell therapies to reduce preterm brain injury and offer these children a brighter future.

Learn more about my group's research

Dr Courtney McDonald's research focus is on developing stem cell therapies that reduce brain inflammation and brain injury in newborns.

Areas of interest

Birth asphyxia Cerebral Palsy Preterm birth

Research group

Cell Therapies and Neuroinflammation


A stem cell biologist, Dr Courtney McDonald’s research focus is on developing stem cell therapies that reduce brain inflammation (neuroinflammation) and brain injury in vulnerable newborns, which can lead to conditions such as cerebral palsy.

Her research is focused on identifying the key mechanisms driving neuroinflammation in the developing brain, and using this knowledge to develop new treatment approaches. Dr McDonald’s work has shown that different stem cell types, including mesenchymal stem cells, umbilical cord blood (UCB) and amnion epithelial cells (AECs) are effective therapies for brain injury in small and large animal models of perinatal brain injury.

Dr McDonald is leading studies into how these stem cells work to reduce brain injury and neuroinflammation, including the long-term functional and behavioural effects of stem cell therapy for perinatal brain injury. Her research

  • Was the first to investigate and compare the efficacy of different cell types found within umbilical cord blood
  • Changed understanding of stem cell doses required to treat term and preterm brain injury effectively
  • Demonstrated the advantage of giving multiple doses of cells for sustained long-term benefit.

Dr McDonald’s research programs focus on two main areas

  1. The use of umbilical cord blood stem cells and developing new cell expansion technologies to increase the number of cells available for treatment and enhance their clinical use. This work is supported by strong commercial collaborations with Cell Care Australia and ExcellThera Inc.
  2. The use of neural stem cells for neuroregeneration. This work aims to identify the mechanisms by which neural stem cells reduce perinatal brain injury, with the goal of optimising therapeutic outcomes and reducing the severity of cerebral palsy.

Her research has led to the initiation of three clinical trials using umbilical cord blood.

Dr McDonald has received more than $6 million in grant and fellowship funding from national government agencies (NHRMC, MRFF), commercial funding (Cell Care Australia), as well as support from philanthropic groups such as Cerebral Palsy Alliance and Inner Wheel Australia.

READ MORE |Cerebral palsy community consulted over stem cell treatment |Preventing brain injury in babies


Awards and fellowships


Publication highlights