Researchers announce new finding in repairing infant hearts

February 6, 2012 8:15:08 AM PST
Researchers at Rice University and Texas Children's Hospital have made major strides in repairing damaged infant hearts using stem cells, the two institutions announced Monday morning.

They say through a collaborative effort between both institutions, researchers have been able to turn stem cells from amniotic fluid into cells that form blood vessels. Those findings could significantly help babies born with heart disease.

"We want to come up with technology to replace defective tissue with beating heart tissue made from stem cells sloughed off by the infant into the amniotic fluid," said Rice bioengineer Jeffrey Jacot, who led the study. "Our findings serve as proof of principle that stem cells from amniotic fluid have the potential to be used for such purposes."

According to researchers, most severe heart defects are detected by ultrasound, giving doctors an opportunity to extract amniotic cells before the child is born. They'll be able to make tissue for the repair from the infant's own cells prior to birth. Researchers add that because the stem cells would be a genetic match, there's no risk of rejection.

Currently, doctors use non-biological materials, such as Dacron or Teflon, which don't grow with the patient, or native pericardium, the membrane that surrounds the heart. Both of the current options usually require additional surgeries and raise the risk of cardiac arrest, say researchers.

According to the American Heart Association, about 32,000 infants a year in the United States are born with congenital heart defects, 10,000 of which either result in death or require some sort of surgical intervention before they're a year old.