August 6, 2014
The number one birth defect in babies born in the United States is congenital heart defects, according to the March of Dimes1 . More than 25,000 babies are born with some form of congenital heart defect each year. With this condition, usually the shape of the heart is malformed in some way, and the parts of the heart most often affected are the septum, heart valves, arteries and veins. A baby’s blood flow is affected, sometimes resulting in constricted or completely blocked blood flow or valves that do not close correctly, allowing a reverse in the correct direction of blood flow. Some cases of congenital heart defects are more critical than others.
Heart defects are formed in the early stages of pregnancy, and though researchers have pinpointed several medical conditions that may play a role in the formation of these defects, a definite cause is not known.
Cord blood is being studied by cardiologists at the University Hospital of Munich2 as a tool to help repair heart defects in babies, specifically those with faulty heart valves.
Current treatments for faulty heart valves involve transplanting donated or artificial heart valves to correct the damage. This method works but the problem lies in the fact that a child keeps growing as they age, however, the valve does not. This means repeat surgeries for the child throughout their childhood.
The goal in using umbilical cord blood to repair the heart is to have a child only endure one surgery and be done for life.
With this study, the researchers collected the cord blood at birth and, after 12 weeks, introduced the stem cells from the cord blood to a polymer heart valve scaffold (which would dissolve over time after transplanted.) Tests on the lab-created heart valves showed that they responded much like a natural heart valve.
Further research, which would have the new valves transplanted in the hearts of lambs, is being done by the team. They are hopeful that they will soon be able to successful implant the new heart valves into children with heart defects in the near future.
This research is just one of the countless ways umbilical cord blood is impacting and improving the medical landscape of today. Cord blood research holds so much promise for potential medical treatments in the future.