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Mar 22, 2017 11:25 AM EDT

Stem Cell Therapy Binds The Cord To Mend Broken Hearts

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Stem cells, found in most, if not all, multi-cellular organisms might hold a whole gamut of graft material. One rich source of stem cells that can be used for therapy is the umbilical cord.

The fascinating fact about stem cells is their innate ability to grow and develop into the more than 200 cell types of an adult human body. There are two types of mammalian stem cells: embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells.

The advantage of embryonic stem cells is that it can generate all cell types, while multipotent adult stem cells can be propagated to produce only a limited number of cell types. As such, embryonic stem cells are more viable for use in research and regenerative medicine due to its capability of producing virtually limitless numbers of itself that can be employed for both research and clinical use.

Researchers have demonstrated that embryonic stem cells from umbilical cords may hold the key to alleviating the number of surgeries necessary to treat children born with certain types of congenital heart disease (CHD). Accordingly, CHD is the most common type of birth defect that can lead to infant mortality.

With the advances in care and treatment, eight out of ten infants born with CHD live to be adults. The only drawback is that the current treatment available for these maladies is corrective surgery. An implant is employed to replace the damaged coronary area with a piece of tissue. Multiple surgeries usually follow as the child matures, as the heart outgrows the implant used to repair it.

Professors Massimo Caputo and Paolo Madeddu, in the Bristol Heart Institute, a newly created Specialist Research Institute (SRI) at the University of Bristol, have devised cellular grafts employing stem cells harvested from umbilical cords and placenta. It is envisioned that this procedure might induce the graft to grow like living tissue and grow along with the child's heart eliminating the need for follow-up surgeries.

Professor Caputo, Professor of Congenital Heart Surgery from the School of Clinical Sciences believes that stem cells cultured from, umbilical cords that are usually discarded after birth, may hold the key to a new generation of graft. The implanted graft grows at the same rate as the child with reduced rejection since the transplant contains the child's own DNA.

It is hoped that by the development of these new procedures, a significant reduction in a number of surgeries could be achieved for children born with CHD, according to Professor Paolo Madeddu, Professor of Experimental Cardiovascular Medicine from the School of Clinical Sciences.

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