Stem Cell Therapy as a Treatment for Congenital Heart Disease

Stem Cell Therapy as a Treatment for Congenital Heart Disease

Congenital disabilities can be devastating for a child and their family.  A congenital heart defect used to be a very serious condition that led to the death of many infants and young children. With modern technology and advancements in medicine, we are better able to screen for defects in advance and treat them. Stem cell therapy is being explored as a regenerative treatment for patients with congenital heart defects. Stem cells can be programmed into specific tissue types, including cardiac tissue. They could be used to restructure the defect, healing the heart internally with new and healthy cardiac tissue.


What is Congenital Heart Disease?


Congenital heart defects (CHDs) are the most common type of congenital disability. As medical care and treatment have advanced, babies with a CHD are living longer and healthier lives than they were before. CHDs are present at birth and can affect the structure of a baby’s heart and the way it functions. These defects can affect how blood flows through the heart and out to the rest of the body. CHDs can vary from mild, such as a small hole in the heart, to severe, such as missing parts entirely or poorly formed parts of the heart.


About 1 in 4 babies born with a heart defect has a critical defect, also known as critical congenital heart disease. Babies with a critical CHD need surgery or other procedures in the first year of their life. Some CHDs may be diagnosed during pregnancy using a special type of ultrasound called a fetal echocardiogram, which creates ultrasound pictures of the heart of the developing fetus.

However, some CHDs are not detected until after birth or later in life, during childhood or adulthood, because they are so minor. If a healthcare provider suspects a CHD may be present, the baby can get several tests, like an echocardiogram, to confirm the diagnosis. The causes of CHDs among most babies are currently unknown. Some babies have heart defects because of changes in their individual genes, or family genetic history.

CHDs also are thought to be caused by a combination of other factors, such as things in the environment, the mother’s diet, the mother’s health conditions, or the mother’s medication use during pregnancy. Certain conditions a mother has, like pre-existing diabetes or obesity, have been linked to heart defects in the baby. Smoking during pregnancy, as well as taking certain medications, have also been linked to heart defects. It is extremely important to be aware of what you consume during pregnancy to reduce the risk of congenital disabilities.


How Can Stem Cell Therapy Treat My Congenital Heart Disease?


Stem cells have safely been used to treat adult heart disease for a long time, and there is plenty of literature to prove their efficacy. But there is little research done on the use of stem cells for congenital heart defects. Stem cell delivery to a heart with a defect can improve overall cardiac function, stimulate new cell growth, and improve patients quality of life. There currently needs to be more research to conclude what cells and delivery method are the safest. But stem cell therapy is effective at treating heart disease and is a promising treatment for patients suffering from a congenital heart defect.


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