A heart surgeon says that he “probably saved a baby’s life ” by using stem cells from the placenta in a “world-first” operation.
Professor Massimo Caputo from the Bristol Heart Institute fixed baby Finley’s heart defect with stem cell injections. He wants to improve the technology so that children born with congenital heart disease won’t have to have as many surgeries. Finley is “a happy growing little boy.” He is now two years old.
But he was born with his heart’s main arteries in the wrong places, so he had his first open-heart surgery at the Bristol Royal Hospital for Children when he was only four days old.
Unfortunately, the surgery didn’t fix the problem, and his heart function worsened. The left side of his heart stopped getting enough blood. Melissa, his mother in Corsham, Wiltshire, said: “We knew from the start that he didn’t have a good chance of living.
“Finley finally got out of surgery after 12 hours, but he needed a heart and lung bypass machine to stay alive, and his heart function had gotten a lot worse.”
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After weeks in intensive care, it seemed like there was no normal way to treat Finley’s condition, and he needed drugs to keep his heart beating. But a new method was tried, which used stem cells from a bank of placentas.
Prof. Caputo put the cells right into Finley’s heart in the hopes that they would help damaged blood vessels grow.
Scientists at the Royal Free Hospital in London grew the so-called “allogeneic” cells, and millions were injected into Finley’s heart muscle.
Allogeneic cells can grow into non-rejected tissue, which is what happened to Finley’s damaged heart muscle. Prof. Caputo said, “We took him off all the drugs he was on, and we took him off the ventilator.” “He was sent home from the ICU and is now a happy, healthy little boy growing.”
Using a bio-printer, a stem cell scaffold is made to fix valves in blood vessels that don’t work right and holes between the heart’s two main pumping chambers. Artificial tissue is usually used to fix babies’ hearts, but it can fail, and it doesn’t grow with the heart, so as the children get older, they need more operations.
After successful work in the lab, Prof. Caputo hopes a clinical trial of the patches will happen in the next two years.
The trial of the stem cell plasters gives hope to people like Louie from Wales, who was born with several birth defects in his heart. Prof. Caputo did the 13-year-old boy from Cardiff’s first open-heart surgery when he was only two weeks old, and he did it again when he was four to replace the material that was fixing his heart.
But because the materials aren’t 100% biological, they can’t grow with him, so he has to have more surgeries.
According to the British Heart Foundation, about 13 babies in the UK are diagnosed with a congenital heart defect every day, just like Louie. This is a heart condition that develops before the baby is born. Because the patient’s immune system can reject the materials used to fix the heart, they can cause scarring, leading to other problems, and slowly breaking down and failing in just a few months or years.
So, a child might have to have the same heart surgery more than once while they are young. In the UK, around 200 children with congenital heart defects must have the same surgery more than once every year.
Louie hopes that thanks to stem cell technology and tissues that can grow with his body, the breakthrough will cut down on the number of surgeries he needs.
He said, “I don’t like having the procedures.” “It’s not good for me, in the long run, to know that I need surgery every couple of years, so that would make me feel a lot better.”
Prof. Caputo and his team say that stem cell technology could save the NHS about £30,000 for every operation that wouldn’t be needed. This would save millions of pounds every year. Dr. Stephen Minger, an expert in stem cell biology and the director of SLM Blue Skies Innovations Ltd, praised the research.
He said: “Most studies I know of on adults with heart failure or dysfunction show that stem cell infusion has only a small amount of therapeutic value.
“I’m glad the clinical team will do a standard clinical trial. This should tell us if this was a “one-off” success and also help us figure out how it happened.”
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