Stem Cells Used to Repair Heart Defects – NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth

Nearly one in 100 babies is born with a heart defect each year in the United States. Many of these babies will need surgery within weeks of birth, followed by more surgeries throughout their lives. Now doctors are turning to stem cells to give big hope to little hearts.

“Hypoplastic left heart syndrome is a complex congenital heart disease. That’s where the left ventricle doesn’t grow,” explained Sunjay Kaushal, MD, Ph.D., chief of pediatric cardiac surgery at Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago.

Hypoplastic left heart syndrome

These newborns rely solely on their right ventricles to pump blood throughout their bodies.

Kaushal points out, “These babies need surgery in the first weeks of life.”

Between 15% and 20% of these babies will not live to their first birthday. For the little ones who do, drugs and implanted devices can help, but ultimately those kids will need a heart transplant to survive.

“That right ventricle gets tired. It doesn’t pump blood efficiently,” Kaushal explains.

Pediatric heart surgeons at Lurie Children’s Hospital inject stem cells directly into the heart to revitalize the worn-out right ventricle.

“We’re trying to see if we can actually put stem cells in there to reshape, to rejuvenate that right ventricle to pump blood more efficiently for that baby,” Kaushal said.

In the long term, stem cell therapy could potentially prevent these children from needing a heart transplant.

Kaushal added, “I think these studies could be a game-changer for our babies.”

They said 38 patients will be enrolled at seven clinical sites across the United States for a phase two clinical trial this year. Researchers hope that eventually stem cell injections will not have to be given as an injection into the heart, but as an intravenous injection like other drugs.