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New Treatment for Heart Failure

Injured Hearts Repaired With Patients' Own Bone Marrow Cells
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WebMD Health News

Nov. 11, 2003 (Orlando, Fla.) -- Researchers are able to grow new healthy heart cells in physically incapacitated people with heart failure -- and the "seeds" they use are the patient's own bone marrow cells.

This procedure, which some cardiologists call "reseeding the heart," is being tried on small groups of patients in several countries, but Mayo Clinic cardiologist Raymond J. Gibbons, MD, says, "It appears that Germany is in the lead" in this new technology. Gibbons led an American Heart Association news conference at which the latest -- and most impressive -- cell transplant study was presented.

Helmut Drexler, MD, professor of medicine and chief of cardiovascular research at Hannover Medical School in Hannover, Germany, says his team infused bone marrow stem cells taken from each patient's hips and transplanted them into the heart just a few days after the patients suffered heart attacks.

Five to six months after the procedure, hearts in the infused patients were beating better and more efficiently than hearts in 30 heart attack patients who had standard therapy without infused cells.

This is just one of a score of stem cell studies being presented at the American Heart Association meeting in Orlando, Fla., this week.

What many of the studies have in common is that the researchers are using "a person's own body to deliver the product, so you don't have to pay a manufacturer," says Emerson Perrin, MD, PhD, a clinical assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

Perrin is injecting bone marrow stem cells directly into the damaged heart muscle of patients with congestive heart failure. In his study, he compared physical activity improvements after transplantation in 11 patients with severe heart failure and nine heart failure patients who received no treatment.

The results of his study showed that oxygen consumption and the ability of the body to exercise -- a direct measure of how well the heart pumps -- improved in the transplanted group. He says the patients have better blood flow and have significantly improved exercise tolerance, an important finding since four of the patients were completely disabled and waiting for heart transplants before they had the stem cell treatment. Now, says Perrin, all four patients are off the transplant list.

Other Cell Types Being Studied

But even though cells for transplant are harvested from patients, researchers are not convinced that a single cell type can do the job. For example, Nabid Dib, MD, working at the Arizona Heart Institute, is injecting muscle cells collected from thigh muscles into damaged heart muscle. In his study, he injected thigh muscle cells into patients with advanced heart disease who were waiting to be implanted with mechanical-assist devices. The muscle cells started to work in the heart within 72 hours of transplant, he says.

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