Babies with heart defect test new stem cell treatment

(CBS News)
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Eva Weiler was 20 weeks into pregnancy when doctors diagnosed her unborn daughter Alise with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, commonly called HLHS.

"She has half a heart. Her left ventricle really doesn't exist. The diagnosis is devastating and you look for anything that's going to give you hope," Weiler told CBS News.

Children with HLHS typically have three surgeries that allow the developed side of their heart to pump blood to the entire body. But by early adulthood, the heart starts to fail.

Doctors at Children's Hospital Los Angeles are trying something new. They're collecting the baby's cord blood at birth to gather stem cells. Then when the child undergoes the second HLHS surgery, "We're going to inject stem cells into the right ventricle," explains Dr. Ram Kumar Subrmanyan.

He believes injecting the stem cells directly into the heart will help stimulate muscle growth, making it stronger.

"The hope is that this will delay or even prevent heart failure in this subset of patients," Subrmanyan said.

Families taking part in the clinical trial are given free storage for their child's stem cells from birth until they're used in the surgery.

Researchers say so far they're seeing positive results in children who received the injections as part of a clinical trial. The final results are not yet known.

Weiler is hopeful it will make a difference for her daughter.

"I want to give her every possible chance that I can," she said.