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    New Treatment for Heart Failure

    Injured Hearts Repaired With Patients' Own Bone Marrow Cells

    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.

    Unlike Perrin and Dib, the German researchers are concentrating on patients with heart attacks -- when cells are sometimes irreversibly damaged -- rather than chronic disease such as heart failure. Moreover, the Germans are injecting cells into the coronary artery rather than directly into heart muscle. They theorize, says Bodo Strauer, MD, professor of medicine at Heinrich Heine University in Duesseldorf, Germany, that the arterial blood flow will carry the cells to the area of the heart where heart muscle was injured by the heart attack. Strauer conducted the first successful cell infusion of this kind.

    Using the same device as in angioplasty, the researchers are able to inject the cells "downstream from the sight of the blockage that caused the heart attack," Robert Bonow, MD, chief of the division of cardiology at Northwestern University in Chicago, tells WebMD. Bonow, who is not involved in any cell transplant studies, says he thinks the new technology is still very preliminary and very experimental, but he adds, "These early results are very promising." And he says there is potential for the technique to be "pretty cheap."

    Finally, although the results are very preliminary, the researchers are not shying away from bold pronouncements. Dib puts it this way: Cell transplantation holds such promise for growing new healthy heart tissue to replace old, worn out, or dead tissue that he predicts, "Someday this will replace transplants."

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