Reminiscent of an entry in our running medical Sci-Fi contest, Dr. Simon Hoerstrup from University of Zurich has developed a method for growing heart valves from stem cells found in amniotic fluid.
Scientists for the first time have grown human heart valves using stem cells from the fluid that cushions babies in the womb – offering a revolutionary approach that may be used to repair defective hearts in the future.
The idea is to create these new valves in the lab while the pregnancy progresses and have them ready to implant in a baby with heart defects after it is born.
It’s one of several sci-fi tissue engineering advances that could lead to homegrown heart valves for infants and adults that are more durable and effective than artificial or cadaver valves.
“This may open a whole new therapy concept to the treatment of congenital heart defects,” said Dr. Simon Hoerstrup, a University of Zurich scientist who led the work, which was presented Wednesday at an American Heart Association conference.
One percent of all newborns, or more than 1 million babies born worldwide each year, have heart problems. These kill more babies in the United States in the first year of life than any other birth defects, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Heart valve defects can be detected during pregnancy with ultrasound tests at about 20 weeks of pregnancy. At least one-third of afflicted infants have problems that could be treated with replacement valves, Hoerstrup said.
Here’s how the experiment worked:
Amniotic fluid was obtained through a needle inserted into the womb during amniocentesis, a prenatal test for birth defects that is often offered to pregnant women aged 35 and older.
Fetal stem cells were isolated from the fluid, cultured in a lab dish, then placed on a mold shaped like a small ink pen and made of biodegradable plastic. It took only four to six weeks to grow each of the 12 valves created in the experiment.
The researchers said lab tests showed they appeared to function normally.
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