The special plaster full of stem cells that can fix babies’ heart problems

Good news arrives from the University of Bristol, a centre famous for its pioneering research into children’s problems, which will surely prevent a whole lot of suffering.

Something as simple as a sticking plaster will save children having to undergo repeated heart surgery.

Yes, you read that right, a sticking plaster, but a special one containing stem cells which will adhere to and heal defective hearts.

The Bristol researchers, funded by the British Heart Foundation, have developed ‘stem cell plasters’ which will revolutionise the way surgeons treat children living with congenital heart disease so they don’t need as many open-heart operations.

Heart defects are the most common type of abnormality that develops before a baby is born, and around 13 babies diagnosed with a congenital heart condition are born every day in the UK. These include defects in the baby’s heart valves, the major blood vessels in and around the heart, and holes in the heart.

Surgeons can perform open-heart surgery to temporarily repair the problem but the materials used can’t grow with the baby. They’re rejected by the patient’s immune system so they fail in a few months or years.

A child might therefore have to go through the same heart operation many times, keeping them in hospital for weeks at a time, hugely impacting their quality of life and causing a lot of stress for the family.

Now, British Heart Foundation’s Professor Massimo Caputo has developed the first type of stem cell patch to repair abnormalities. It’s designed to be sewn into the area of the child’s heart that needs repairing. The stem cells then boost the repair of heart tissue without being rejected by the child’s body. Miraculous.

These patches have the potential to adapt and grow with the child’s heart, removing the need for repeated surgery. Professor Caputo aims to get these patches into patients in the next two years, enabling more children and babies to benefit from the life-altering technology.

He comments: “For years families have come to us asking why their child needs to have heart surgery time and time again.

“Although each operation can be lifesaving, the experience can put an unbelievable amount of stress on the child and their parents. We believe that our stem cell patches will be the answer to solve these problems.”

Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan at the BHF added: “It could offer a solution that means their heart is mended once and forever in a single operation, preventing people from facing a future of repeated surgeries and giving them the gift of a happier and healthier life.”