Patients at Boston Children’s Hospital are first to receive new therapy

James McCully, PhD, a cardiovascular researcher at Boston Children’s Hospital, has spent years pioneering a therapy called mitochondrial transplantation. Now, together with cardiac surgeon Sitaram Emani, MD, he is bringing this life-saving therapy from bench to bedside to cardiac surgery patients at Boston Children’s Heart Center.

Mitochondrial transplantation can help children like Avery with heart defects overcome a condition called ischemia. Ischemia occurs when blood flow is reduced to the heart muscle and causes small structures inside the heart’s cells — called mitochondria — to become damaged. Even after proper blood flow returns to the heart, the mitochondria remain damaged, impairing the heart’s ability to pump blood well.

To give the heart cells a boost after ischemia, a patient’s own mitochondria can be taken from another healthy muscle in the body and transplanted into the ailing heart muscle. This allows patients’ hearts to recover their energy and pump blood normally again.

Based on the success of mitochondrial transplantation for the heart, the team at Boston Children’s is now adapting this approach to treat other organs in the body.

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