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Heart Stem Cell Study: Researcher's Perspective

An interview with Roberto Bolli, MD.

How does this compare to other stem cell trials? continued...

"This is amazing," Bolli says. "You are given one shot of stem cells and that scarring in the heart shrinks by half in one year. Correspondingly, there's an increase in viable tissue in the heart, which is strongly suggestive of regeneration."

In other words, the patients are making new heart tissue to replace the damaged tissue -- something no drug or surgery can do.

Two years after the procedure, partial results were available for eight patients who had gotten echocardiograms. On average, their ejection fraction had improved by 13 percentage points.

"At two years, we continue to see the improvement in ejection fraction," Bolli says. "It actually seems to be greater than it is at one year. So in other words, as time goes by, the effects of these cells becomes bigger, rather than smaller, which is really quite exciting."

What about cost?

Such a regenerative therapy would be less costly and burdensome than current options for heart failure, including a heart transplant or a mechanical pump called a ventricular assist device, Bolli says.

Also, Bolli hopes to make the heart stem cell procedure available to a much larger pool of heart failure patients. During the Phase I trial, all 20 patients had undergone heart bypass surgery, during which surgeons extracted heart tissue that contained stem cells.

Patients won't need to undergo bypass surgery for the next clinical trials.

"Now we can isolate the stem cells from a biopsy. We don't need a surgical specimen anymore," Bolli says.

To get those biopsies, the researchers will guide a catheter through the neck's jugular vein to the right side of the heart, where they'll take a tiny piece of tissue. It's an outpatient procedure that's already routinely done in patients being evaluated for heart transplants.

"It can be done very easily and not very expensively, and it makes every heart failure patient a potential candidate for these cells," Bolli says.

Reviewed on July 25, 2012

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