By Stephanie Hodgson
16 Feb

Holding On to Hope

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Recently, researchers at Rice University and Texas Children’s Hospital have turned stem cells from amniotic fluid into cells that form blood vessels. Their success offers hope that such stem cells may be used to grow tissue patches to repair infant hearts. Read more here.

Lead study author Jeffrey Jacot, an assistant professor of bioengineering based at Rice’s BioScience Research Collaborative and director of the Pediatric Cardiac Bioengineering Laboratory at the Congenital Heart Surgery Service at Texas Children’s Hospital, said they hope to grow heart patches from the amniotic stem cells of a fetus diagnosed in the womb with a CHD. Jacot also said that because the cells would be a genetic match there would be no risk of rejection.

“Between 60 and 80 percent of severe heart defects are caught by ultrasound,” he said. “Ultimately, when a heart defect is diagnosed in utero, we will extract amniotic cells. By birth, we will have made tissue for the repair out of the infant’s own cells. The timing is critical because the surgery needs to be done within weeks of the infant’s birth.”

Hearing this news reminds me of when I was first told, back in 1983, that the only potential “cure” for my CHD would be a combined heart and lung transplant. Because of my biblical and religious views, the doctors told me that this type of operation could not be done without blood transfusions.

Since that time and up until the present, modern medical technology has rapidly advanced so that now others like me continue to live longer, healthier lives, and may benefit from this medical breakthrough of stem cell research. My personal religious views and moral ethics have also been altered, and the rules and regulations have evolved and changed within the religion I was raised in. What was once considered wrong is now being left to one’s conscience in specific controversial matters.

In 1993, my niece, K., and grandniece, N., died within six months of each other. When N. died, K. had to make the hardest decision ever, whether to donate the organs of her ten-month-old baby. Her decision was no, saying, “If her organs couldn’t save my baby’s life then they won’t save someone else’s.” K. was brave. When K. died, six months later, my older sister, D., had to make the same decision—whether to donate her daughter’s organs. K. was only 20 years old, and after she had witnessed her baby dying, she had made her wishes known that she didn’t want to be cut open, and my sister promised K. that she would respect her wishes.

Because of my potential need of a heart and lung transplant and others needing heart transplants, and because of the waiting lists and shortage of organ donors, this decision was hard to take.

Understandably, the decision to donate a loved one’s organs is hard to make on top of the trauma and loss involved, and thus, shows why alternatives and advancement in science and biotechnological medicine, such as stem cell research, can be positive.

Thinking of my own case and others born with CHD, this latest news about the developments in using stem cell research in CHDs—although, specifically on newborn’s hearts—is very welcomed.

People were afraid of cloning when in February 1997 they first learned of Dolly, the famous cloned sheep. In his essay, “An Audience with Dolly,” author Charles Siebert wrote, “Dolly has spawned in the collective consciousness nightmarish scenarios of cookie-cutter people and headless human clones reared for organ harvesting.” Siebert declared that Dolly was “either humanity’s greatest potential or as some view it, our ultimate perversion.”

Science, medicine, and biotechnological advancements, as well as ethical and moral issues, will constantly be changing and evolving for the better, and I question why some people are afraid of change.

Today, as we bring awareness during the month of February, let us remember those who have gone before us in their fight while holding on—for just one more day, one more breath, and one more heartbeat—still holding on to hope.


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