Scientists at the Yale University School of Medicine are using tissue engineering to build blood vessels. In this first trial, a child now has a blood vessel started from scratch in the lab and implanted to continue growing in her own heart.
Angela Irizarry is flying with happiness. She is a 4-year-old girl who was born with a defective heart, she was missing a pumping chamber. But now, with help from stem cells deep in her bone marrow and from a few scientists breaking ground, Angela has a grown a new part for her heart.
"It's a man made blood vessel that's inside her," explained Dr. Christopher Breuer of Yale School of Medicine.
It all begins with a tube that is made of a biodegradable material. The tube then works as a scaffold to help stem cells grow tissue. Dr. Toshi Shinoka originally began this research in Japan.
On the day of the surgery, the tube is seeded with stem cells, which are taken the same day from the bone marrow in Angela's hip. The stem cell scaffold was then implanted in the heart area where it will continue to form and grow.
"Once implanted in the body, what begins to happen is the scaffold starts to degrade and new tissue starts to form," explained Dr. Breuer.
Rejection is not an issue because all the cells are Angela's own. Dr. Breuer explains that doctors have created a blood vessel that now connects the biggest vein in her body to the pulmonary artery and is helping her heart to function better.
As far as Angela and her family are concerned, she is functioning perfectly.
Doctors hope to do surgeries like this on at least five other patients for this experimental study. It is a medical advancement that could benefit many.
"About 25 percent of our patients in congenital heart surgery have one ventricle instead of two, and so this operation is applicable to quite a number of patients overall," said Dr. Gary Kopf of Yale School of Medicine.
An engineered body part is an amazing achievement. Ordinarily, children born with this type of heart either die or have a synthetic part grafted which is then is risky for other problems. Luckily, Angela is energetic and full of life, which is exactly what the doctors like to see.
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