A procedure that surgically isolates stem cells from a patient’s own heart and later infuses them back in higher numbers may someday hold promise in treating heart failure caused by scarring from previous heart attacks.
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While it is too soon to know if this treatment will become a reality, a small study presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2012 has shown encouraging results that pave the way for larger studies that could advance the field.
The trial — titled The Effect of Cardiac Stem Cells In Patients with Ischemic Cardiomyopathy (SCIPIO) — included 33 patients with heart failure who had undergone coronary artery bypass surgery. During the surgery, researchers removed a tiny piece of heart tissue and isolated a specific type of cardiac stem cells. They then grew additional cells to infuse into 20 volunteers assigned to treatment.
The study found that most of the patients treated with their own heart stem cells:
- had greater pumping power
- developed healthier heart muscle
- reported a better quality of life
In addition, there were no bad side effects or deaths from the treatment, and the benefits continued for as long as two years after receiving the stem cells.
“It is important to keep in context the small number of patients in this trial, but the investigators should be applauded for their findings of improvement of heart function, viability of heart tissue and quality of life of patients for at least one year,” says Sangjin Lee, MD, MSc, Cleveland Clinic Cardiovascular Medicine. Previous research into stem cells for this indication had been inconclusive, he says.
While the possibility of this type of therapy being offered to all patients is still a long way off, the findings do support further investigation in larger, multi-center studies, Dr. Lee says.
Randall C. Starling, MD, MPH, Cleveland Clinic’s Vice Chairman of Cardiovascular Medicine, says that the intense study of stem cells (including a major clinical trial that Dr. Lee is leading) could someday lead to new clinical therapies. “Hopefully in the future, stem cells will be a reality for the treatment of heart failure,” Dr. Starling says. “For now, we need the collective efforts of scientists, courageous patients and dedicated clinical investigators to advance the field.”
What causes heart failure?
What is a heart attack?