Stem cells from newborns may help treat heart problems

Washington: Researchers at the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine including one of an Indian origin have found a novel way to treat serious heart problems in children.

They conducted the first direct comparison of the regenerative abilities of neonatal and adult-derived human cardiac stem cells.

They found that cardiac stem cells (CSCs) from newborns have a three-fold ability to restore heart function to nearly normal levels compared with adult CSCs.

Further, in animal models of heart attack, hearts treated with neonatal stem cells pumped stronger than those given adult cells.

“The surprising finding is that the cells from neonates are extremely regenerative and perform better than adult stem cells,” said the study’s senor author, Sunjay Kaushal, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and director, paediatric cardiac surgery at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

“We are extremely excited and hopeful that this new cell-based therapy can play an important role in the treatment of children with congenital heart disease, many of whom don’t have other options,” he noted.

Dr. Kaushal envisions cellular therapy as either a stand-alone therapy for children with heart failure or an adjunct to medical and surgical treatments.

While surgery can provide structural relief for some patients with congenital heart disease and medicine can boost heart function up to two percent, he said cellular therapy might improve heart function even more dramatically.

“We’re looking at this type of therapy to improve heart function in children by 10, 12, or 15 percent. This will be a quantum leap in heart function improvement,” he added.

Dr. Kaushal said it is not clear why the neonatal stem cells performed so well.

One explanation hinges on sheer numbers: there are many more stem cells in a baby’s heart than in the adult heart. Another explanation: neonate-derived cells release more growth factors that trigger blood vessel development and/or preservation than adult cells.

The study has been published in the latest issue of Circulation.


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