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Stem Cells May Treat Heart Failure

Symptoms Improve for Heart Attack and Heart Failure Patients
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

March 26, 2007 (New Orleans) -- Scientists have successfully used stem cells to treat people with heart failure and heart attacks.

In one study, direct injections of stem cells into injured heart muscle helped people with heart failure to breathe better, walk farther, and generally feel better, says Nabil Dib, MD, director of clinical cardiovascular cell therapy at the University of California San Diego.

In a second study, people who got infusions of stem cells within a week of a heart attack had better heart function and fewer potentially life-threatening irregular rhythms than those who didn't get the treatment, says Joshua Hare, MD. Hare is professor of medicine and director of the Interdisciplinary Stem Cell Institute at the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine.

Stem cells are at an early stage of maturation and therefore have the potential to become many different types of cells, including those in the heart muscle.

Both studies, reported here at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology conference, used adult stem cells, not the more controversial embryonic stem cells.

Stem Cells Taken From Bone Marrow

Dib studied 23 people with end-stage heart failure, a condition in which the heart is unable to pump blood properly and keep up with the body's demand. The cause of these patients' heart failure was coronary artery disease.

The participants were the sickest of the sick. They failed to respond to medication and for one reason or another could not be helped by bypass surgery or angioplasty procedures. Many could barely walk across the room without panting.

The researchers extracted stem cells from the thigh muscles of 12 of the participants, grew the cells in a lab, and injected them directly into oxygen-deprived -- or ischemic -- areas of the heart muscle through a catheter. The other 11 participants were given standard drug therapy.

Minimally Invasive Procedure

After six months, patients who had received the stem cell injections had significant improvements in heart function and quality of life, while those who had standard drug therapies worsened.

The stem cell treatment also improved the heart's ability to pump blood and restored blood flow to oxygen-starved heart muscle, he says.

"Their enlarged hearts decreased in dimension, while in the people on drug therapy, the heart continued to get bigger," he says.

Dib says one of the most notable aspects of the stem cell treatment is how minimally invasive it is. "The patient is awake during the procedure and can go home within 24 hours," he says.

And since the stem cells are taken from the patient's own body, there is minimal risk of rejection, Dib says.

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