Dying Organs Restored to Life in Novel Experiments

the healing edge

An unusual transplant may revive tissues thought to be hopelessly damaged, including the heart along with brain.

Kate Bowen with her infant, Georgia, inside intensive care unit at Boston Children’s Hospital. Doctors tried to revive the baby’s heart with an infusion of one billion mitochondria.CreditKatherine Taylor for The completely new York Times
Gina Kolata

When Georgia Bowen was born by emergency cesarean on May 18, she took a breath, threw her arms inside air, cried twice, along with went into cardiac arrest.

The baby had had a heart attack, most likely while she was still inside womb. Her heart was profoundly damaged; a large portion of the muscle was dead, or nearly so, leading to the cardiac arrest.

Doctors kept her alive that has a cumbersome machine which did the work of her heart along with lungs. The physicians moved her by Massachusetts General Hospital, where she was born, to Boston Children’s Hospital along with decided to try an experimental procedure which had never before been attempted in a human being following a heart attack.

They could take a billion mitochondria — the energy factories found in every cell inside body — by a smaller plug of Georgia’s healthy muscle along with infuse them into the injured muscle of her heart.

For Georgia, though, the transplant was a long shot — a heart attack will be different by a temporary loss of blood during an operation, along with the prognosis will be stark. There will be only a short time between the onset of a heart attack along with the development of scar tissue where once there were living muscle cells.

The problem was which no one knew when the baby’s heart attack had occurred. Still, said Dr. Sitaram Emani, a pediatric heart surgeon who administered the transplant, there was little risk to the infant along that has a chance, though slim, which some cells affected by her heart attack might still be salvageable.

“They gave her a fighting chance,” said the infant’s mother, Kate Bowen, 36, of Duxbury, Mass.

Dr. Jesse Esch, right, with Brian Quinn, a cardiology fellow, performing a mitochondrial transplant on Georgia Bowen. Angiograms showing the infant’s coronary arteries along with the catheter can be seen on the monitor.CreditKatherine Taylor for The completely new York Times
Dr. James McCully prepared to inject mitochondria for Georgia Bowen during her operation. Animal experiments have suggested which the procedure may repair damaged tissue.CreditKatherine Taylor for The completely new York Times

The idea for mitochondrial transplants was born of serendipity, desperation along with the lucky meeting of two researchers at two Harvard teaching hospitals — Dr. Emani at Boston Children’s along with James McCully at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Dr. Emani will be a pediatric surgeon. Dr. McCully will be a scientist who studies adult hearts. Both were wrestling with the same problem: how to fix hearts which had been deprived of oxygen during surgery or a heart attack.

“If you cut off oxygen for a long time, the heart barely beats,” Dr. McCully said. The cells may survive, nevertheless they may never fully recover.

While preparing to give a talk to surgeons, Dr. McCully created electron micrographs of damaged cells. The images turned out to be revelatory: The mitochondria inside damaged heart cells were abnormally smaller along with translucent, instead of a healthy black.

The mitochondria were damaged — along with nothing Dr. McCully tried revived them. One day, he decided simply to pull some mitochondria by healthy cells along with inject them into the injured cells.

Working with pigs, he took a plug of abdominal muscle the size of a pencil eraser, whirled the item in a blender to break the cells apart, added some enzymes to dissolve cell proteins, along with spun the mix in a centrifuge to isolate the mitochondria.

He recovered between 10 billion along with 30 billion mitochondria, along with injected one billion directly into the injured heart cells. To his surprise, the mitochondria moved like magnets to the proper places inside cells along with began supplying energy. The pig hearts recovered.

Dr. Sitaram Emani of Boston Children’s Hospital along with his colleagues have treated 11 babies with mitochondrial transplants, most of them successfully.CreditKatherine Taylor for The completely new York Times

Meanwhile, Dr. Emani was struggling with the same heart injuries in his work with babies.

Many of his patients are newborns who need surgery to fix life-threatening heart defects. Sometimes during or after such an operation, a tiny blood vessel gets kinked or blocked.

The heart still functions, nevertheless the cells which were deprived of oxygen beat slowly along with feebly.

He can hook the baby up to a machine like the one which kept Georgia Bowen alive, an extracorporeal membrane oxygenator, or Ecmo. nevertheless which will be a stopgap measure which can work for only two weeks. Half of the babies with coronary artery problems who end up on an Ecmo machine die because their hearts cannot recover.

nevertheless one day Dr. Emani was told of Dr. McCully’s work, along with the two researchers met. “the item was almost an ‘aha’ moment,” Dr. Emani said.

Dr. McCully moved to Boston Children’s, along with he along with Dr. Emani prepared to see if the completely new technique might help tiny babies who were the sickest of the sick — those surviving on Ecmo.

the item was not long before they had their first patient.

Early one Saturday morning in March 2015, the hospital got a call by a hospital in Maine. Doctors there wanted to transfer to Boston Children’s a newborn baby boy whose heart had been deprived of oxygen during surgery to fix a congenital defect.

The baby was on an Ecmo nevertheless his heart had not recovered.

“We turned the intensive care unit into an operating room,” Dr. Emani said.

He snipped a tiny piece of muscle by the baby’s abdomen. Dr. McCully grabbed the item along with raced down the hall.

Twenty minutes later, he was back that has a test tube of the precious mitochondria. Dr. Emani used an echocardiogram to determine where to inject them.

“The spot which will be weakest will be where we want to go,” he said. “the item will be important to give as much of a boost as you can.”

Dr. McCully placed mitochondria by Georgia Bowen’s neck muscle into a centrifuge before infusing them into her heart muscle.CreditKatherine Taylor for The completely new York Times
Dr. Emani taking tissue samples by Georgia’s neck.CreditKatherine Taylor for The completely new York Times

He injected a billion mitochondria, in about a quarter of a teaspoon of fluid.

Within two days, the baby had a normal heart, strong along with beating quickly. “the item was amazing,” Dr. Emani said.

The scientists have today treated 11 babies with mitochondria, along with all nevertheless one were able to come off Ecmo, Dr. Emani said. Still, three of them ultimately died, which Dr. Emani attributes to a delay in treatment along with various other causes.

Dr. Esch prepared the mitochondria to be infused into Georgia’s heart. The fluid amounts to a quarter of a teaspoon.CreditKatherine Taylor for The completely new York Times

Two died because their hearts were still so damaged, along with one died of an infection. All of the more recent patients survived along with are doing well.

In comparison, the death rate among a similar group of babies which did not get mitochondrial transplants was 65 percent. along with none of the untreated babies recovered any of their heart function — more than a third of the survivors ended up on heart transplant lists.

More recently, Dr. Emani along with his colleagues have discovered which they can infuse mitochondria into a blood vessel feeding the heart, instead of directly into the damaged muscle. Somehow the organelles will gravitate almost magically to the injured cells which need them along with take up residence.

He along with his colleagues are persuaded which these transplants work, nevertheless acknowledge which the item could take a randomized trial to prove the item.

Photos along with get-well wishes inside hospital room where Georgia will be recovering.CreditKatherine Taylor for The completely new York Times
by left, Kendal, Scarlett, Kate, Ryan along with Jack Bowen on a recent visit to Georgia inside I.C.U. She was put on a list for a heart transplant.CreditKatherine Taylor for The completely new York Times

The main problem will be a scarcity of patients. Even if every pediatric center inside United States participated, along with every infant with injured heart muscle, the item still could be hard to enroll enough participants inside trial.

nevertheless what about adult heart patients? Researchers are hoping which mitochondrial transplants also can repair heart muscle damaged during heart attacks in adults. along with finding enough of those patients should not be an issue, said Dr. Peter Smith, chief of cardiothoracic surgery at Duke University.

Already researchers are planning such a trial. The plan will be to infuse mitochondria or a placebo solution into the coronary arteries of people having bypass surgery or — an even more dire situation for the heart — having both bypass along with valve surgery.

The patients could be those whose hearts are so damaged which the item could be difficult to wean them by heart-lung machines after surgery. For these desperate patients, mitochondrial transplants “are a truly intriguing option,” Dr. Smith said.

“The likelihood will be very high” which the study will begin next year, said Annetine Gelijns, a biostatistician at Mount Sinai Medical Center in completely new York.

For Georgia Bowen, the procedure came too late: The portion of her heart muscle affected by the heart attack had died. Her doctors implanted a device which takes over the heart’s pumping, along with wish her heart will recover enough for them to remove the device.

nevertheless, to be safe, they put her on a list for a heart transplant. She seems to be improving, though — she will be breathing on her own along with can drink breast milk through a tube. Her heart will be showing signs of healing.

“Georgia will be a miracle who continues to fight daily along with persevere through the obstacles she will be dealt,” Ms. Bowen said.

“In our hearts, we know she will pull through This particular along with come home.”


Because of an editing error, a previous type of This particular article referred incorrectly to the source of the mitochondria infused into Georgia Bowen. They were taken by neck muscle, not abdominal muscle.