Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Never Give Up

An article published by Associated Press today left me dumbfounded. It reminded me to never, ever give up hope. You've GOT to read this article in its entirety (see summary below). See if you feel the same...

British girl's heart heals itself after transplant

Sir Magdi Yacoub of Imperial College London thought that said that if Clark's heart was given a time-out, it might be able to recover on its own. So in 1995, Yacoub and others grafted a donor heart from a 5-month-old directly onto Clark's own heart. After four and a half years, both hearts were working fine, so Yacoub and colleagues decided not to take out the extra heart.

However, the powerful anti-rejection drugs Clark was taking caused cancer, which led to chemotherapy. Even when doctors lowered the doses of drugs to suppress Clark's immune system, the cancer spread, and Clark's body eventually rejected the donor heart.

In February 2006, doctors removed Clark's donor heart. Luckily, by that time, Clark's own heart seemed to have fully recovered. Since then, Clark — now 16 years old — has started playing sports, gotten a part-time job, and plans to go back to school in September.

At the moment, doctors aren't sure how that regeneration happens. Some think there are a small number of stem cells in the heart, which may somehow be triggered in crisis situations to heal damaged tissue.

Granted, Hannah's case is a rare and miraculous one, but it does give us a window of hope for the future!

Side note - even if this were to become an option for treatment in the future, there is a serious shortage of donor organs available for such transplants. Consider becoming an organ donor today, and asking your loved ones to do the same!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Great News: Scientists ID'd Heart Stem Cells!

Source: Constance Holden, ScienceNOW Daily News
2 July 2009

I was thrilled to read today that scientists have finally identified the cardiac stem cells that create all of the major cell types in the human heart. In recent years, scientists identified these cells in embryotic mice, but now a team at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston have found these same cells (that express the protein Islet 1) in humans. The team reports its work in Nature.

What does this mean? That researchers are one step closer to creating new cardiac stem cells in the heart's major cell types: heart muscle (cardiomyocytes), smooth muscle, and blood vessel lining (endothelium).

Chien, the researcher who made this astounding discovery, cautions that these primordial stem cells could not be used for therapy because they could develop into undesired cell types, but they could be used for disease modeling and drug screening and - most importantly to those of us affected by CHD - further research on congenital heart malformations. Chien speculates that CHD's "may be a stem cell disease" because Islet 1 cells are clustered in areas that are "hot spots" for heart defects.

The future I hope it holds for us? The possibility of growing human "heart parts" (such as strips of muscle or a valve) to assist CHD survivors.