Miracles in the Laboratory…Growing New Vessels for Tiny Hearts

Nationwide Children’s is recruiting the nation’s best and brightest researchers and physicians.  New arrivals, Dr. Christopher Breuer and Dr. Toshiharu Shinoka, are the first in the world to develop tissue-engineered vascular grafts using a child’s own heart cells.  Here’s a look behind the scenes of their amazing work.

Imagine a heart the size of a walnut.  Now imagine that heart is not formed properly…missing blood vessels, even pumping chambers.  Heart Malformations are one of the most common birth defects in newborns.  Unlike adults who “acquire” heart disease over a lifetime, thousands of babies are born each year with tiny hearts that have not formed correctly.  Often these defects are minor and correct themselves but with the most major defects babies will not survive without immediate surgery.

Our surgeons are amazing and can reconstruct these tiny hearts through series of complex surgeries and procedures.  In the past, artificial blood vessels would be used to replace missing or malformed ones.  The problem…children grow and these vessels didn’t grow with them.  This results in multiple open heart surgeries throughout life.

Dr. Christopher Breuer and Dr. Toshiharu Shinoka are changing that.  They are the first in the world to have figured out how to grow these tiny blood vessels in the lab .  They start with a tiny biodegradable scaffold to which they attach the child’s own cells.  This scaffold provides a framework for the cells to attach and grow.  This scaffold is then implanted into the child and within two months, the biodegradable material is absorbed into the body and a functioning blood vessel remains.  One that will grow with the child.

Dr. Breuer and Shinoka have treated one child with this technique and plan to treat their next patient here at Nationwide Children’s.   This work is being done initially on just a few children as part of a clinical trial.  Once the trial is successfully completed, the procedure could be more widely available and Dr. Breuer and Dr. Shinoka are already exploring other applications for their miraculous discovery.


Donna Teach
Donna Teach is Chief Marketing & Communication Officer at Nationwide Children's. Her job is to help the hospital feel "connected" – Connected to each other, connected to our patients and their families, referring physicians, the community and the world.

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