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Heart Disease Health Center

Bone Marrow Cells Help Human Hearts

Early Results Show Treatment Could Help Some Heart Disease Patients Feel Better, Perform Everyday Tasks
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March 15, 2006 (Atlanta) -- Transplantation of bone marrow cells into a severely damaged heart may be a new way to treat heart disease patients who have exhausted all other treatment options, researchers report.

The treatment also improved the heart's ability to pump blood and restored blood flow to oxygen-starved heart muscle, says Hung-Fat Tse, MD, an associate professor of medicine and deputy director of the Research Center of Heart, Brain, Hormone, and Healthy Aging at the University of Hong Kong.

If findings of the small study pan out in future research, it could mean a new treatment option for the thousands of Americans with severe buildup of atherosclerotic plaque in their arteries, severe chest pain, and no other treatment options for coronary artery disease.

The study was presented here at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology.

Cells Taken From Bone Marrow

The 28 people in the study suffered from severe coronary artery disease that did not respond to conventional treatment.

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 surgery used to clear clogged arteries -- coronary bypass surgery or angioplasty procedures. Many had significant symptoms of heart disease that made it so they could barely walk across the room without panting.

"The heart disease in these patients follows an inexorable downhill course with disabling symptoms and progressive cardiac failure," Tse says.

The cells used in the study were taken from the patients' own blood cell factory -- the bone marrow -- several hours before the procedure.

Functional Living Improves After Transplant

In the study, 19 people received an average of 15 injections containing either 1 million or 2 million bone marrow cells directly into oxygen-deprived areas of the heart. These bone marrow cells are believed to spur growth of new blood vessels in the injured heart muscle.

Nine other patients served as a comparison group and received injections of a placebo substance.

After six months, people who were treated with bone marrow cells could exercise on a treadmill for 20% longer than those on placebo. They had less chest pain, and they could perform everyday activities easier, such as going to the store.

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