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Using stem cells to help babies with heart defects

Lake Charles, LA (KPLC) – Nearly one in a hundred babies are 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 their little hearts great hope.

“Hypoplastic left heart syndrome is a complex congenital heart disease. This is where the left ventricle fails to develop,” says Dr Sunjay Kushal, Chief Pediatric Cardiac Surgeon at Lurie Children’s Hospital.

These newborn babies rely solely on their right ventricle to pump blood throughout their bodies.

“These babies need surgery within the first few weeks of life,” says Dr. Kushal.

Fifteen to twenty percent 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,” says Dr. Kushal. “It doesn’t pump blood efficiently.”

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.”

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

“I think these studies could be a game-changer for our babies,” says Dr. Kushal.

Thirty-eight patients will be enrolled at seven clinical sites across the United States for a phase two clinical trial this year.

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