BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (WTNH) -- Pediatric surgeons at Yale School of Medicine fine tuned a surgical technique, using tissue engineering, to help a little girl born with a congenital heart defect.
Four-year-old Angela Irizarry is a ball of energy, riding her bike and playing with her big brother Alex.
Thanks to a novel approach to repair a potentially deadly congenital heart defect.
Claudia Irizarry, Angela's mother says, "before the surgery, she can't go so far without getting tired, but now she doesn't want to stop."
Nearly a year ago, pediatric surgeons at Yale School of Medicine implanted a blood vessel made of her own cells.
She was the first patient in the country to undergo the tissue regeneration or engineering procedure.
Dr. Chris Breuer led the research that applied engineering principles.
"A scaffold is one of the tools we use to make a tissue," Breuer said.
Researchers created a biodegradable scaffold to create tissue.
"This is a matrix that's made out of materials that will degrade over time and what we can do is seed the cells onto the matrix and they'll grow tissue that can then be implanted surgically," said Breuer.
He teamed up with pediatric heart surgeon Dr. Toshi Shinoka, perfecting the surgical technique, initially performed by Dr. Shinoka in Japan.
"Usually surgery takes four to five hours, but before we have surgery we have to spend an additional two hours to harvest the bone marrow," Shinoka said.
Bone marrow cells which are used to regenerate tissue.
Breuer says, "ultimately you are left with tissue made from your own cells, so it's living and it's viable and can repair, remodel and even grow."
Shinoka says Angela will not need a follow-up operation "because she's now growing with a growing conduit, but we have to evaluate by echocardiography or MRI study very closely."
Her family is thankful for what they've been given.
Angela's brother Alex says, "her heart is working very good, pumping more oxygen with her body."
Now Angela looks forward to going to pre-school in the fall.
When asked what she wanted to be when she grew up Angela replied, "a doctor."
Angela is the first patient to take part in the FDA approved clinical trial.
Three more pediatric patients are scheduled to follow.
Breuer says the potential applications of the technology could include tissue engineered heart valves and possibly whole organs.
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