New research has found that cardiac stem cells (CSCs) from newborns have a three-fold ability to restore heart function to nearly normal levels compared with adult CSCs. Further, in animal models of heart attack, hearts treated with neonatal stem cells pumped stronger than those given adult cells.
To conduct the study, researchers obtained a small amount of heart tissue during normal cardiac surgery from 43 neonates and 13 adults. The cells were expanded in a growth medium yielding millions of cells. The researchers developed a consistent way to isolate and grow neonatal stem cells from as little as 20 milligrams of heart tissue. Adult and neonate stem cell activity was observed both in the laboratory and in animal models. In addition, the animal models were compared to controls that were not given the stem cells.
"The surprising finding is that the cells from neonates are extremely regenerative and perform better than adult stem cells," said, Sunjay Kaushal, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and director, pediatric cardiac surgery at the University of Maryland Medical Center. "We are extremely excited and hopeful that this new cell-based therapy can play an important role in the treatment of children with congenital heart disease, many of whom don't have other options."
Dr. Kaushal says it is not clear why the neonatal stem cells performed so well. One explanation hinges on sheer numbers: there are many more stem cells in a baby's heart than in the adult heart. Another explanation: neonate-derived cells release more growth factors that trigger blood vessel development and/or preservation than adult cells.
Adapted from the University of Maryland School of Medicine announcement.