Scientists have developed a procedure to make half a heart become whole.
The condition called hypoplastic left heart syndrome, or HLHS, causes children to be born with a very small left ventricle -- essentially, half a heart. (The heart is made up of four chambers -- a left and right atria, and a left and right ventricle. The left ventricle specifically is responsible for receiving blood from the left atria, and then pumping it out to the aorta.)
Children who are born with HLHS typically have procedures done so that their hearts are able to function with just one ventricle, but researchers noted that many end up requiring heart transplants, and just half of people who have these procedures done reach adulthood.
But with this new procedure, called "staged left ventricle recruitment," these procedures are done alongside other ones to help the left ventricle to grow.
"Children have an enormous growth and healing potential," study researcher Dr. Sitaram M. Emani, M.D., of Boston Children's Hospital Departments of Cardiac and Cardiology, said in a statement. "We realized that rather than give up on the left ventricle and commit a child to single ventricle circulation for life, we could leverage that growth potential in a staged approach that would promote growth in the left ventricle and gradually recruit it back into operation."
The procedure is outlined in the latest issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Thirty-four children received the new procedure, and 12 of them went on to be able to use both of their heart ventricles and experienced left-side chamber and valve growth.
Even though it only looked at short-term survival, the study also showed that children who received the new procedure had a better survival rate than those who received just the old procedure.
"The general consensus has been that conversion to single ventricle circulation is the safest approach, but it has significant limitations when it comes to adult survival," Emani said in the statement. "While we are still refining the process, we think our two-ventricle approach will help children with HLHS not just survive but thrive into adulthood."