The Latest Pro-Life News and Education

Stem Cell Transplant to Treat the Unborn

Scientific breakthroughs with adult stem cells are happening every day.

Unlike embryonic stem cells, ethical adult stem cells have already offered cures and treatments to people who are suffering from a variety of serious ailments including kidney and heart disease, sickle cell anemia, and multiple sclerosis.

This one hits home.

A recent medical advancement using adult stem cells has huge promise for the unborn.

Doctors at the University of California, San Francisco earlier this year completed the first clinical trial of an intrauterine stem cell transplant.

Nichelle and Christopher/Photo by Noah Berger

The story begins when Nichelle and Christopher went in for an ultrasound during her second trimester. They were told their baby’s heart was abnormally large and had a buildup of fluid around it. These problems meant their daughter was working overtime to pump blood throughout her tiny body. All told, the baby’s heart showed the classic symptoms of heart failure.

Doctors discovered that the cause of the baby’s enlarged heart was due to a severe type of a blood disorder known as alpha thalassemia, which affects nearly five percent of the world’s population. This disorder reduces hemoglobin, which transports oxygen from the lungs to all parts of the body by red blood cells.

Usually, babies with this disorder are either stillborn or die quickly after birth. In this case, both parents unknowingly carried the DNA for alpha thalassemia, but it was not present enough in the body of their first child, Gabriel, to have an effect.

After Nichelle and Christopher received this shocking diagnosis for their second child, they were “devastated.” The prognosis at that point looked grim. The couple’s genetic counselor said they could start blood transfusions while the baby they named Elianna was still in her mother’s womb, but even if she was born, Elianna would likely need transfusions for the rest of her life.

But there was another option!

Doctors at the Fetal Treatment Center at the University of California, San Francisco had been conducting intensive research for decades on the possibility of a stem cell transplant with the baby in utero. Dr. Tippi Mackenzie, who had been working on this form of stem cell therapy for a decade, reviewed Elianna’s case and thought she would be a good candidate for a transplant.

Dr. Mackenzie, holding Elianna/Photo by Noah Berger

Stem cell transplants in utero were first attempted in the 1990s but the successes were limited to treating immune deficiency disorders. Due to advances in understanding fetal development, however, the possibility of injecting a large dose of a mother’s stem cells with a baby still in the womb has become a reality.

Treating little Elianna with intrauterine blood transfusions, doctors noticed that she was doing better with each transfusion. Then came the pivotal transfusion in which stem cells obtained from her mom’s bone marrow were injected into the umbilical vein.

These cells turned into red blood cells, which flowed through Elianna’s bloodstream and infused her body with much-needed oxygen.

Fortunately, the treatments were enough to make the pregnancy a success! Nichelle’s daughter was born this past February at 37 weeks and weighed in at 5 lbs. A report by Time on the procedure notes that her daughter “let out a lusty cry when she was born.” Nichelle named her daughter Elianna, which means “God has answered,” after a nurse in the ward where she stayed.

He has answered them indeed!

Since that day, Elianna is reportedly eating well and is rolling around. Though she has not been cured yet – she will need more blood transfusions and another stem cell transplant – the procedure seems to be working. Based on the future success of this trial, Dr. Mackenzie will be looking to help more mothers who are dealing with similar problems.

A stem cell transplant in utero is just one more avenue that has opened up due to ethical adult stem cells. They have already helped paralyzed patients regain movement and feeling, cured cerebral palsy, reversed macular degeneration, treated multiple myeloma, and stopped systemic lupus.

Please visit StemCellResearchFacts.org to watch videos of life-changing stories from those who have experienced hope and healing firsthand.

Protecting life,

Yours for life,

Bradley Mattes
President, Life Issues Institute

Life Issues Institute is dedicated to changing hearts and minds of millions of people through education. For 25 years, organizations and individuals around the world have depended upon Life Issues Institute to provide the latest information and effective tools to protect innocent human life from womb to tomb.

Add or Review Comments