Amniotic Stem Cells For Heart Repair in Congenital Defects

Sometimes, a heart defect is not discovered until a routine medical exam when the doctor may hear a heart murmur. Image by Nevit Dilmen

Sometimes, doctors don’t discover a heart defect until a routine medical exam, when the doctor may hear a heart murmur. Image by Nevit Dilmen

Finding out that a baby will be born with a heart condition is terrifying for parents-to-be. Doctors are working on solutions to this problem – new treatments that may improve the outlook for babies born with heart defects. New research presents an option to repair congenital heart defects with amniotic stem cells.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are about 40,000 infants that are born every year in the United States with a heart defect.

Also called ‘congenital heart defects,‘ these abnormalities can range from small problems with the heart to a serious medical condition that can put the baby’s life in danger.

However, there is new research that might enable doctors to repair a baby’s heart using his own amniotic stem cells.

What Are Congenital Heart Defects?

Congenital heart defects are abnormalities in your babies heart that develop before birth. According to the March of Dimes, heart defects occur during the early weeks of gestation when the heart is beginning to form, and doctors may need to conduct multiple surgeries or even heart transplants to correct the heart defect. Surgeries and transplants generally take place within the first few months of the baby’s life; a difficult time for a vulnerable little person.

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How Can Amniotic Stem Cells Help?

Researchers at the University of Michigan Department of Surgery have started testing a new way of regenerating the defective heart tissue, which they hope one day will replace the need for surgeries. So how are they going to replace the damaged tissue? With amniotic stem cells; these new cells have showed promise to replace the damaged cells or to grow new tissue to augment the damaged heart.

Other stem cells have had promising results, but due to either controversy or the fact that it was too risky, those options weren’t available. However, amniotic stem cells are the perfect match because they contain the exact same genetic makeup as the fetus, which eliminates the possibility of the baby’s body rejecting the cells.

Some babies when born with heart defects need extra support with breathing. Image by Rose State Community College

Some babies when born with heart defects need extra support with breathing. Image by Rose State Community College

In 2011, the researchers obtained amniotic fluid samples from eight pregnant women and extracted a common cell called mesenchymal stromal cell. Researchers than transformed these cells into pluripotent stem cells that contain the same genetic makeup as the fetus.

According to Dr. Kunisaki, in the American College of Surgeons Press Release that accompanied the study, “Once you have true stem cells, then you can expose these cells in a culture condition, which favors transformation into a heart cell.”

After three weeks of observation the amniotic stem cells transformed into heart muscle cells – just as the researchers expected.

Amniotic Stem Cells For Heart Healing

Dr. Kunisaki hopes that in the future, doctors will be able to deliver these amniotic stem cells to babies soon after birth. Heart defects are generally diagnosed around 20 weeks gestation, which would give the care team about five months to have the amniotic stem cells grow into heart cells that they can use right after birth.

What’s next in the process to bring this solution to families? The next step is testing this on a mouse model, which Dr. Kunisaki hopes to begin in 2014. The step after that will be testing the procedure on a baby with a congenital heart defect.

If this procedure works, it could eliminate the need for surgeries and possibly even transplants in newborns.


American College of Surgeons. Amniotic stem cells show promise in helping to repair cardiac birth defects. (2013). Presented at the Clinical Congress, 2013. Accessed October 13, 2013.

Manjari Fergusson. Hawaii Health Officials Want Mandatory Heart Defect Tests for Newborns. (2013). Honolulu Civil Beat. Accessed October 13, 2013.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Congenital heart defects. (2011). Accessed October 13, 2013.

March of Dimes. Congenital heart defects. (2008). Accessed October 13, 2013.

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  1. Darla Dollman says:

    We need this now.

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