In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

April 8, 2014

Bigger, better, stronger hearts


The diagnosis came when April Rubeck was 25 weeks pregnant. Doctors sat her down and informed her and her husband, Ryan, that their unborn son, Roman, had hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a "complex and rare heart defect" in which the left side of his heart was critically underdeveloped. They gave the Rubecks little to no hope for their son's survival after birth.

"They said Roman had hypoplastic left heart syndrome and the best thing that we could do would be to take him home and in probably three or four days he would pass away on his own," April Rubeck says in an American Heart Association video story posted recently on Mayo Clinic's HLHS News and Views blog.

The Rubecks didn’t take the news sitting down. Instead, they came to Mayo Clinic in Rochester not only for a second opinion, but also for a second chance at life for their son. And they say they've found that and more in Drs. Joseph Dearani and Timothy Nelson, who received permission from the FDA to conduct a clinical trial that's using stem cells to try to regenerate heart tissue and ultimately cure congenital heart disease. And both doctors say if everything goes according to plan, the impact of their trial could potentially become the next "miracle in medicine" -- not only for Roman Rubeck, but also for the 40,000 other babies who are born with congenital heart disease every year in the United States.

"What we believe is that the cells are probably stimulating the underlying regenerative capacity of the heart," Dr. Nelson says of the stem cells now at work in repairing Roman's heart. "So this type of therapy may allow us to delay or ideally prevent the need for cardiac transplantation."

"Stem cell therapy has the ability to improve the function on any of these ventricles that are failing," Dr. Dearani says, "whether it be a child, whether in be an adult, whether it be a congenital defect, whether it be an adult defect." In the Mayo study, researchers are looking to identify children at risk before they're born, collect umbilical cord blood at the time of birth, and use the stem cells to try to regenerate heart tissue and make their hearts "bigger, better and stronger."

The video does a nice job of getting into the "nuts and bolts" of the research work being done by Drs. Dearani and Nelson, as well as the potentially life-saving benefits it holds in the fight against the world's No. 1 birth defect.

Afterward, be sure to share your comments below.

Tags: Patient Stories

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