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Stem cells used to help mend hearts

28 April 2003
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 205

Scientists have discovered that injections of adult stem cells taken from patient's own bone marrow can be used to help them recover from heart failure. The technique was tested on 21 people with so-called 'end stage' heart failure, and it was found that the health of 13 of those was greatly improved.

The bone marrow stem cells were extracted and then injected directly into the patients' hearts. Studies in animals have previously shown that bone marrow stem cells can turn into heart muscle cells, improving the heart function and blood flow. The researchers, from the United States and Brazil, wanted to see whether the same effects would be found in humans. Fourteen Brazilian patients received on average 15 injections that each contained about 2 million stem cells. Another group of patients were used as a control group.

After two months of the treatment, the patients' damaged heart muscle had begun to rejuvenate and their hearts were pumping blood more efficiently. The results were published last week in Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association. Dr James Willerson, team leader of the scientists from the University of Texas Health Science Centre in Houston, US, commented 'these patients were desperately ill. They had a relatively high risk of dying, and had no other forms of therapy available'. Dr Willerson said that although the results were encouraging, they would have to be re-tested in larger clinical trials before they could be used by doctors as a recognised medical procedure.

Meanwhile, another source of stem cells in humans has been identified: teeth. Researchers have found that an intermediate type of stem cell - neither embryonic or adult - can be derived from children's milk teeth. Songtao Shi and colleagues from the US National Institutes for Health found that the teeth cells could differentiate into tooth-forming cells known as odontoblasts, and also nerve and fat cells. The research is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Baby teeth revealed as source of stem cells
New Scientist |  21 April 2003
Stem cell hope for heart patients
BBC News Online |  21 April 2003
Stem cells help heart patients
The Guardian |  22 April 2003
Weak hearts saved by stem cell injections
The Independent |  22 April 2003
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