Among their findings: 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 study is published in the September 11, 2012, issue of Circulation.
"The surprising finding is that the cells from neonates are extremely regenerative and perform better than adult stem cells," says the study's senor author, Doctor Sunjay Kaushal. "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."
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 says cellular therapy may improve heart function even more dramatically. "We are 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."
Heart failure in children, as in adults, has been on the rise in the past decade and the prognosis for patients hospitalized with heart failure remains poor. In contrast to adults, Kaushal says heart failure in children is typically the result of a constellation of problems: reduced cardiac blood flow; weakening and enlargement of the heart; and various congenital malformations. Recent research has shown that several types of cardiac stem cells can help the heart repair itself, essentially reversing the theory that a broken heart cannot be mended.
Stem cells are unspecialized cells that can become tissue- or organ-specific cells with a particular function. In a process called differentiation, cardiac stem cells may develop into rhythmically contracting muscle cells, smooth muscle cells or endothelial cells. Stem cells in the heart may also secrete growth factors conducive to forming heart muscle and keeping the muscle from dying.
To conduct the study, researchers obtained a small amount of heart tissue during normal cardiac surgery from 43 neonates and 13 adults. The cells were expanded in a growth medium yielding millions of cells. The researchers developed a consistent way to isolate and grow neonatal stem cells from as little as 20 milligrams of heart tissue. Adult and neonate stem cell activity was observed both in the laboratory and in animal models. In addition, the animal models were compared to controls that were not given the stem cells.
MEDICA.de; Source: University of Maryland School of Medicine