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Stem Cells May Help Treat Heart Failure

Study Shows Injection of Bone-Marrow Stem Cells May Extend Lives of Heart Failure Patients
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Aug. 30, 2010 (Stockholm, Sweden) -- Giving people with chronic heart failure injections of their own bone-marrow stem cells appears to improve their heart function and extend their lives, new research suggests.

The benefits of the stem cell treatment were apparent within three months and persisted for the five years the patients were followed, says researcher Bodo-Eckehard Strauer, MD, of Heinrich Heine University in Dusseldorf, Germany.

This isn't the first time doctors have reported that stem cells may help improve the health of people with heart failure or other heart conditions.

But the 391-patient study is one of the biggest tests to date of stem cell therapy for heart disease -- and the first to show that the treatment cuts the risk of death in chronic heart failure, Strauer tells WebMD.

The treatment "has almost no risks and is effective when used on top of other treatments for chronic heart failure," he says.

The findings were reported here at the European Society of Cardiology Congress.

Stem Cells and Scarred Heart Tissue

One major cause of heart failure occurs when the heart muscle becomes scarred and loses its ability to pump enough blood throughout the body, often after a massive heart attack.

"The hope is that by injecting stem cells into the scarred area, you will bring life back to that area and induce healthy muscle," says American Heart Association spokeswoman Mariell Jessup, MD, medical director of the Penn Heart and Vascular Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

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.

Treatment With Stem Cells

In the study, bone marrow stem cells were taken from the area at the top of the patient’s pelvic bone. Then they were processed in the lab in such a way as to allow them to be injected into the scarred heart muscle.

Nearly five years after the study started, seven of the 191 patients who had the stem cell treatment had died vs. 32 of 200 patients who did not have the treatment -- a substantial difference.

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