Doctors using stem cells to save children with heart defects


Analiah Duarte was born with one of the most lethal and rare congenital heart defects; it's called Ebstein's anomaly. One of Analiah's heart valves failed to form.

"They're left with this horrible little non-functional valve that allows blood to slosh back and forth inside their heart," said Dr. Redmond Paul Burke, Chief of Pediatric Cardiovascular Surgery at Miami Children's Hospital.

Burke says it causes hearts to grow four, five, six times larger than normal.

"Analiah was born with a heart that filled her entire chest," said Burke.

Previously, surgeons would repair, replace, or close her valve, but that surgery would need to be done over and over as she grows.

"The holy grail for heart valve repair and replacement is a valve that will grow with the child," said Burke.

Doctors created that valve out of extracellular matrix-a substance extracted from a pig's bladder. The implant acts like a fishnet and captures stem cells flowing in Analiah's blood stream. The cells attach to the implant, grow around it and create a new heart valve.

"We could see, for the first time in her life, the valve that we had created opening and closing," said Burke.

A year later, Analiah's valve is working. As a result, her heart is now a third of the original size.

Dr. Burke says Analiah's new valve should grow with her throughout her life, so she won't need a transplant, surgery, or drugs. Researchers also believe this could be used in adults to replace heart valves.

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