Umbilical cord blood stem cells may one day be used to build heart valves for children born with heart defects. Ralf Sodian of University Hospital Munich, who led the study, presented at the American Heart Association annual meeting that these valves would grow with the child, eliminating the need for ongoing surgical intervention to replace outgrown heart valves.
This was a very preliminary study, called a concept study. Through the study, researchers demonstrated that it was possible to collect blood from the umbilical cord at birth, harvest the stem cells and create a heart valve that will be available when the baby needs it. Currently, heart valves are replaced using animal valves, donated human valves or artificial valves.
Researchers extracted and froze the stem cells from the cord blood. They later seeded the cells into biodegradable heart valve scaffolds. The cells grew into a tissue layer that was determined to be heart tissue.
While this study shows promise, there is a long way to go before the technique can be tried on patients. Meanwhile, it is exciting to know that this is another potential use for stored cord blood.