Advances That Regrow Babies' Hearts

From: The Wall Street Journal

Pediatric surgeons are developing a new strategy to tackle one of cardiology's most challenging congenital defects: babies born with only one heart ventricle. The doctors are enlisting the body's own regenerative powers in an effort to grow the missing ventricle or strengthen the remaining one.

At Boston Children's Hospital, doctors are beginning to see the fruits of a 10-year effort to use biology instead of new technology to help children born with the condition, called hypoplastic left heart syndrome, grow a second ventricle. Among 34 patients treated so far, 13 are now living with two working ventricles, according to Sitaram Emani, the surgeon heading the effort.

Doctors at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn., meanwhile, are looking to boost the functioning of the existing ventricle. They just started enrolling babies with the same defect in a 10-patient trial to see if stem cells taken from their own umbilical cords can stimulate the growth of heart-muscle cells and strengthen surgical repairs made to fix the defect.

Currently, standard treatment involves a series of three open-heart surgeries, developed over the last 30 years, to enable the children to survive with one ventricle. Together the new methods represent a novel effort to extend survival—and avoid or reduce the impact of complications from the surgeries that can emerge later in life. Though hard statistics aren't available, 30% or more of children don't survive to adulthood, Dr. Emani says.

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