Baby's dying heart brought back to life with mitochondrial transplants

Physicians at Boston Children's Hospital used an experimental mitochondrial transplant to save the life of a baby who went into cardiac arrest shortly after her May 18 birth. The procedure may prove an answer to the question many researchers have grappled with: how to revive hearts deprive of oxygen due to surgery or a heart attack, according to The New York Times.

Georgia Bowen was born with significant damage to her heart after suffering a heart attack while likely still in her mother's womb. Her heart, deprived of oxygen, still functioned after her birth, but beat behind rhythm. Even though a portion of the heart's cells can survive after oxygen deprivation, the cells never are fully restored.

Sitaram Emani, MD, a pediatric surgeon at Boston Children's Hospital, and James McCully, PhD, a scientist at Boston-based Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center who studies the human heart, collaborated to save Georgia's life.

Dr. McCully discovered injecting healthy mitochondria into pigs' hearts with damaged cells helped restore their normal function. As Dr. Emani was struggling to treat similar heart injuries in his own newborn patients, like Georgia, he teamed up with Dr. McCully to see if the process would work in humans.

For Georgia's surgery, Dr. Emani took a sample tissue from her abdomen and gave the sample to Dr. McCully who extracted a test tube worth's of mitochondria. Using an echocardiogram, Dr. Emani determined the site of injection.

"The spot that is weakest is where we want to go," Dr. Emani told The New York Times. "It is important to give as much of a boost as you can." They injected a billion of Georgia's own mitochondria into her heart and within two days, her heart beat was normal.

Mitochondrial transplants have since been applied to twelve other babies, resulting in three casualties. Two deaths were caused by severe inoperable heart damage and one was related to infection. None of the eight babies have been placed on transplant lists.

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