Using stem cells to help babies with heart defects

Published: Aug. 2, 2022 at 5:56 AM CDT
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Lake Charles, LA (KPLC) - Almost one in one-hundred 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 life. Now, doctors are turning to stem cells to give big hope for their little hearts.

“Hypoplastic left heart syndrome is a complex congenital heart disease. It is where the left ventricle does not develop,” explains Dr. Sunjay Kushal, Chief Pediatric Cardiac surgeon at Lurie Children’s Hospital.

These newborns depend solely on their right ventricle in order to pump blood throughout their body.

“These babies need surgical intervention in the first 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, medications and implated devices can help, but ultimately, these children will need a heart transplant to survive.

“That right ventricle becomes tired,” explains Dr. Kushal. “It doesn’t pump blood efficiently.”

Pediatric cardiac surgeons at Lurie Children’s Hospital are injecting 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 in order to remodel, rejuvenate that right ventricle in order to pump blood more efficiently for that baby.”

In the long run, stem cell therapy could possibly even prevent these children from needing a heart transplant at all.

“I think that these studies could be game-changing 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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