Only four months into their pregnancy, Mary and Tony Goulart found out that their child’s heart had not developed properly. The left side of the heart was severely underdeveloped, and the fetus suffered from several other heart defects. Their doctor told them that their baby was unlikely to survive, but the couple chose to do everything possible to save their child. After three very serious heart surgeries and some other difficult trials including a stroke and a near-fatal infection, Joshua was still alive. Doctors told the couple that Joshua may never be able to walk or speak.
Despite his grim diagnosis, Joshua persevered. Joshua was walking at age two, and by age four, he was able to speak. Today, he is 12 years old, but he is by no means cured. His heart may not last much past his teen years. Even so, the Goularts remain hopeful that stem cell research may offer some solution to their son’s health problems in the future.
Deepak Srivastava and other researchers have had some success with fibroblasts, a type of stem cells which act as support cells in the heart. Srivastava, Director of the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease, aims to convert the fibroblasts into new muscle tissue, which could repair damage caused by heart attacks or other defects. While his research has created some very promising results, more research is necessary before any human trials can begin.